A Tale of Two Cities

 london-paris

Perhaps simply due to geographical proximity, or maybe age old Franco-British rivalry, Paris and London seem to be intrinsically linked by more than just the cross-channel Eurostar service; a relationship that has captured the imagination of authors from Charles Dickens to George Orwell. So how do these two European capitals measure up to each other nowadays? Is there a better quality of life in the ville des lumières or would you be happier in the big smoke? Here’s our list of reasons why each of these cities is better:

Paris is Better

  • The Food

You simply have to look at the number of 3 Michelin starred restaurants in each city (11 in Paris, 2 in London) to see that, when it comes to food, Paris undoubtedly has the upper hand. This is not only true for high end dining; whereas you’d be hard pressed to walk for 5 minutes in London without coming across a Nando’s or Pizza Express, Paris tends towards small, independent restaurants with a much more personal feel.

  • The Architecture

Paris is, undeniably, breathtaking. Its architectural consistency lends it an unmistakeable elegance such that Parisian buildings could not possibly be imagined anywhere else. That’s not to say that London is ugly! Of course the British capital has some gems of its own, but as a whole it simply cannot compare to Paris.

  • Manageability

Central Paris is conveniently contained within le boulevard périphérique, a ring road that wraps around the city’s 20 bite-sized arrondissements.This set up lends a kind of friendly ‘neighbourhood’ feel; although you live in Paris, first and foremost you live in an arrondissement, where you know your local boulangerie and fromagerie (Did we mention that bread and cheese are excellent in Paris?). This can feel a lot easier to handle than the sprawl of London, where you can spend an age moving from one place to the next.

  • Living Costs

With housing costs coming in at 27% cheaper in the French capital and transport a whopping 50% cheaper, for your wallet the choice is a no brainer. Paris is without a doubt the more affordable of the two cities.

  • ‘Je ne sais quoi’

Paris has a certain something that is difficult to articulate, a product of its early 20th Century glory days. The films would have you believe that the whole city is bathed in a warm toned Instagram filter, and for many this romantic view of Paris does ring true. Then again, for some this ideal can lead to disappointment with the reality (See ‘Paris syndrome’, a comical but altogether real condition that befalls poor Japanese tourists whose experience of Paris does not live up to their expectations)

 

London is Better

  • Culture

Paris has an excellent cultural offering, with world class museums like the Louvre giving it a real edge in this domain. However, it’s hard to match up to museums like The British Museum and the Tate, which are, by the way, all free.

  • Size

Although Paris being manageable was stated as an advantage, depending on your perspective you can view London’s immensity as a good thing. You’re sure to find something to do in one of London’s many boroughs at any time, whatever your interests, provided you’re willing to spend some time on the tube of course!

  • Job Opportunities

London is certainly the place to be in Europe when it comes to work, especially in the finance sector. Add this to the higher average salary in London and you might actually be able to afford to live there!

  • Internationality

London has a significantly larger international population than Paris, and with this comes all kinds of benefits, from interesting foods to try (head down to Brick Lane’s Sunday food market and you’ll understand) to diverse cultural events. Furthermore, if so many people are flocking to a place, this suggests it’s an attractive place to live, which brings us on to the final point…

  • French Migration

In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy gave a campaign speech, somewhat unexpectedly, in London. He praised its vitality and labelled it ‘one of the biggest French cities’, and he wasn’t wrong – an estimated 200,000 French people are now living in London. This gives us some food for thought, isn’t it rather telling that French people are choosing to cross the channel to their neighbouring capital rather than staying in their own?

Overall, it’s near impossible to definitively state that one of these great cities is better than the other, as it depends so much on what you’re looking for. When it comes to beauty and ambiance, Paris is a clear winner, whereas London has the edge in diversity and excitement. Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below, and if you liked this post you can check out the other entries here, or if you’re looking for work you can consult our job offers for bilingual assistants here.

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Making the Most of Your Commute

The average Parisian commute is 33.7 minutes long, which totals up to over an hour return journey every day. I think we can all agree that this is not the most enjoyable part of our lives, what with the noise, smells and constant warfare over seating arrangements, but that doesn’t mean to say that this should be ‘dead time’ – there are plenty of things you can do to profit from this otherwise lost hour:

  • Use apps to expand your knowledge. A wealth of apps are waiting to help you learn a language on the go; Duolingo and Memrise are particularly recommended thanks to their simple interface and a progression based structure that makes language learning feel like a game. If you’d rather, you can dabble in ‘brain training’ apps such as Lumosity and hone your mental agility as you’re shuttled across the city, and if brain training isn’t your thing, there’s always Candy Crush…
  • Subscribe to a podcast. Whether it’s current affairs or comedy, podcasts can be a great way to unwind and remove yourself mentally from the hustle and bustle of rush hour. What’s more, if you really get hooked on a podcast you might even find yourself looking forward to your commute so you can get your next fix!
  • Get a head start on work. Why not take advantage of this daily window and take a few simple steps to set you up for the working day? Admittedly you’re not going to make dramatic progress on your projects whilst sandwiched between the masses and clinging to a rail for balance, but you could do something as simple as clearing out your inbox, or make some of those short phone calls you’ve been putting off, provided it’s not too noisy.
  • Read a book. As obvious as it sounds, books can be overlooked in our age of smartphones and iPods. Reading a book can be the perfect way to relax during your commute, and with the advent of e-readers you can now carry a digitalised library around in your coat pocket.
  • Turn your commute into a workout. Have you considered giving the subterranean passages a miss and walking or cycling to work instead? It doesn’t have to be every day, but you can really make a difference to your fitness and energy levels by commuting in a more active way two or three times a week. You’ll arrive at the office feeling energised by the endorphins released during exercise, and it couldn’t be simpler with vélib stations on every street in Paris.

  And finally, having said all of this, sometimes the best thing to do can be:

  • Nothing. Although it might feel like a waste of time, it is sometimes necessary to unplug those headphones, close the newspaper and have a little meditation time. After some mental rest you’ll be thinking much more creatively and will be ready to tackle complex problems at work.

If you found this advice useful, you can take a look at some of our other articles. If you’re looking for a job, take a look at our offers!

Langues sans frontières

Si vous lisez ce blog, vous êtes probablement bilingue. Mais pourquoi avez-vous choisi d’apprendre votre deuxième langue ? Certains vantent la beauté d’une langue comme leur raison de l’apprendre, tandis que d’autres disent que l’important pour eux, c’est la culture associée. Cependant, dans beaucoup de cas  la motivation est plutôt pratique, soit reliée au travail ou aux voyages, et pour eux la question se pose : qu’est-ce qui rend une langue importante ? C’est-à -dire : qu’est-ce qu’une langue internationale ?

Historiquement on peut se tourner vers le latin comme l’exemple par excellence d’une langue internationale. A la suite de l’expansion romaine, la latin s’est répandu à travers le continent européen et s’est avéré comme moyen de communication international de l’église, de l’administration et de l’éducation, et il a gardé cette position pendant à peu près dix siècles. Elle cède le passage au français, qui est reconnu comme la langue la plus importante au niveau de la diplomatie et des relations internationales jusqu’à l’émergence des Etats-Unis comme le principal pouvoir mondial suite à la deuxième guerre mondiale et du coup la dominance de l’anglais.

Toute cette histoire est bien belle, mais il y a sans doute plus de sens de parler du monde actuel et de ce qui rend une langue “internationale” de nos jours. Ces langues seraient donc les langues qui se répandent entre plusieurs nations, mais quelles autres caractéristiques ont-elles ? On a suggéré qu’une langue internationale a forcement pour rôle une fonction intermédiaire ; c’est-à-dire un rôle de  « lingua franca » ou de  langue véhiculaire, une langue utilisée par des personnes dont ce n’est pas la langue maternelle. C’est tout à fait le cas aujourd’hui avec l’anglais, qui est utilisé comme une espèce de terrain d’entente entre les gens des divers pays à travers le monde. Un suédois et un espagnol ne discuteraient ni en suédois ni en espagnol  – ils parleraient sans doute en anglais.

Ceci dit, des nouveaux genres de langues plutôt « hybrides » pourraient-ils émerger comme résultat de l’interaction entre nations ? On peut parler du ‘franglais’, le fruit d’une histoire longue et riche entre les deux nations séparées par la manche, ou de ‘Spanglish’ qui croît aux Etats-Unis en raison de la population importante des hispanophones. Certes, il n’est pas logique de parler de ces phénomènes comme de nouvelles langues, mais on ne peut pas nier l’influence, par exemple, de l’anglais sur le vocabulaire français (Qui d’entre vous dites ‘fin de semaine’ au lieu de « weekend » ? A moins que vous soyez canadien, bien sûr !). La communication internationale peut en fait s’effectuer en deux langues au même temps, avec des changements de langue au milieu d’une phrase.

Si vous êtes bilingue en anglais et français, vous avez la chance de maîtriser deux langues aussi importantes l’une que l’autre. Bien que l’importance du français ait diminuée pendant les derniers siècles, il garde un certain prestige grâce à son histoire riche dans les domaines de la diplomatie, du commerce et de la littérature. Il est important de constater que le français a été nommé comme la troisième langue la plus utile dans les affaires par Bloomsberg Business Week, après l’anglais et le mandarin. L’importance actuelle de l’anglais est évidente si vous n’habitez pas sur une autre planète ! Avez-vous choisi d’apprendre soit le français ou l’anglais en raison de sa position internationale ? Ou peut-être parce que vous êtes franco/anglophile ? Dites-nous, et n’oubliez pas de consulter notre site pour découvrir toutes nos offres d’actualité pour les assistants bilingues.

What Does Fluency Mean to You?

As a company specialising in the recruitment of bilingual secretaries, it’s important to examine exactly what we mean by ‘bilingual’, or rather what is implied by fluency. The word is bandied around, laden with implicit meaning, in questions to language learners and expats alike (“But are you fluent yet?”) and as anyone with any experience in this area can tell you, the answer is far from simple.

Most would suggest a definition along the lines of ‘conversing accurately and with ease’, and indeed this seems to be the consensus amongst dictionaries. Does this mean that a fluent speaker must have a perfect mastery of the language? Certainly not. The myriad aspects of language are almost impossible to list, let alone to master. To any native English speakers: how many of you can provide a definition of the verb ‘to jargogle’? Does your likely inability to define this obscure word as the act of confusing or mixing things up demonstrate that you are not, as you had previously thought, a fluent English speaker? It seems that rather than demanding absolute lexical knowledge of a language as proof of fluency, we should look more towards contextual understanding of unknown words and the ability to use the target language to fill gaps in vocabulary. For example: the ability to describe a coaster as a small mat for a drink without knowing the word itself. Of course, excellent and consistent grammatical knowledge is necessary, but fluent second language speakers and natives alike will occasionally slip up in this regard; what matters is that communication is not impeded.

As far as accents go, some will go very far towards perfecting theirs in a foreign language, but only a handful will rid themselves completely of their native language accent – and should this really be the goal? A (slight!) accent should be worn as a badge of honour, as proof of the hard work put in to acquire your second language, rather than seen as something to be ashamed of. Few would claim that Marion Cotillard, for example, does not speak English fluently due to her slight French accent.

Then there is the romantic idea that dreaming in a foreign language is the ultimate indicator of fluency. The trouble with dreams is that they are particularly hard to measure and do not necessarily accompany fluency, although they are certainly a good sign of mental immersion. Furthermore, many beginners have been known to dream in their second language without understanding what is being spoken around them, which is quite probably gibberish!

Perhaps the most sensible way to view fluency is as the ability to function in your second language in the same capacities as your native one. Evidently this will mean different things for different people and therefore adds a personal aspect lacking from the ‘accurately and with ease’ definition. For example: the ability to discuss astrophysics would be irrelevant for most, whereas for a German scientist working in an Anglophone environment this might be an integral part of bilingualism.

What does fluency mean to you, and would you classify yourself as fluent in any languages you’ve learnt? Do any of these definitions really matter? Maybe you think we’d do best to get rid of the label completely and simply focus on being able to communicate with one another!

If you enjoyed reading this, you can look at our blog for more of the same. Also if you’re searching for a job, don’t hesitate to look at our offers.