2020 Year end reflection

2020 had been a really unusual year, not just for me but also for everyone.

I wrapped up the first semester of my PhD in ULaval. I took two courses (Advanced Mathematical Statistics and Regression) but because I had been working for two years, I spent a lot more time in brushing up the basics. I am so happy to say I passed those two courses. I have to say Advanced Mathematical Statistics stressed me out the most. There were only two exams worth 50% each and this is the distribution of 2nd exam:

Basically, out of 22 students in the class, only 10 people passed (or had scores above 50).

I have time off until the January 18, after which, I will be starting school again! I am using this time to study for SOA’s IFM exam, with the hopes of taking the March 2021 exam. Not having a financial background is really difficult for me.

My desk

My goal is to actually use the time I have to do some reading for my PhD (on survey sampling, missing data and accomplish at least 5 chapters of the IFM syllabus)

Hopefully that gets done!

Corrigé: Expression écrite

À partir de maintenant, j’utilise cette site pour mes rédactions françaises aussi. Je continue à suivre les cours de français une fois tous les deux semaines sur Italki.

Sujet: En utilisant les expressions ci-dessus et d’autres que vous connaissez, répondez à la question suivante : quels sont vos souhaits, vos sentiments et vos pensées sur l’après-coronavirus ? Comment sera le monde, d’après vous ?

La COVID-19 a frappé le monde dès la fin de 2019. Dans la plupart des pays, nous avons vu une grande augmentation du nombre de cas à partir du mois de mars 2020. C’est une maladie qui peut entraîner des conséquences graves, surtout pour les personnes âgées. De plus, la maladie se propage facilement et c’est la raison pour laquelle beaucoup de pays ont adopté la distanciation physique ainsi que les fermetures de bureaux et des écoles pour empêcher sa propagation.

Nous sommes arrivés à la fin de l’année 2020 et il y a des entreprises pharmaceutiques qui ont créé des vaccins avec un bon taux d’efficacité contre cette maladie. C’est un signe que le retour à la vie normale arrivera bientôt. Je souhaite que la vie revienne à la normale pour tout le monde le plus vite possible. À cause de cette pandémie, on a vu que le taux du chômage s’est accru. Il y a des gens qui ont perdu leur emploi et qui sont stressés à propos de leurs ressources financières. De plus, j’aimerais que les écoles rouvrent dès que possible. Les élèves ont passé la plupart de cette année à la maison et même s’il y a des bénéfices avec l’apprentissage en ligne, il y aussi des inconvénients avec cette façon d’apprendre. Premièrement, les élèves se sentent plus isolés qu’avant et cet isolement peut entraîner/engendrer des problèmes de la santé mentale. Deuxièmement, l’accès aux ressources n’est pas équitable pour tous les étudiants. Par exemple, pour les étudiants qui font partie des familles à faible revenu, il est probable qu’il n’aient pas accès aux bon outils technologiques où même aux aides extérieures. Par conséquent, ce sont des gens qui ont plus de difficultés scolaires en ce moment/en cette période. 

D’après moi, la vie après la pandémie sera différente de celle qu’on a connu avant. Cette pandémie a rendu le télétravail obligatoire pour la plupart des commerçants, des entreprises et des fonctionnaires. Selon plusieurs sondages, les travailleurs ont profité de ce nouveau style de travail. Ils n’ont pas besoin d’aller au bureau pendant les heures de pointe et de dépenser une partie de leur salaire pour l’essence ou les transports en commun. Les gens font des économies et ont plus de temps. Je pense que beaucoup d’entreprises vont permettre à leurs employés de continuer à  travailler chez eux car les bénéfices sont plus importants que les désavantages. Spécifiquement, pour ceux qui ont des enfants, avoir une heure ou même deux heures par jour est un bonus. 

How I succeeded in my DELF B2 exam

Last year, I took up the courage to write the probably most basic French DELF A1 exam. Come to think of it, it isn’t really much of a challenge. The effort to get to an A1 level is about 100 hours according to many sources. The challenge itself I guess was having the courage to write the exam.

I made it a point to myself that before 2019 ends this year, I will sit for the DELF B2 exam. And I succeeded!


What is the DELF (Diplôme d’Études en Langue Française) exam?

It is an exam offered by the French Ministry of Education to validate the competency of non-native French speakers. They are split into 4 levels in increasing level of difficulty: A1, A2, B1 and B2. There is then the DALF exam for proficient users (C1 and C2). There are other exam frameworks such as the TEF and TCF. The difference between TCF/TEF and DELF is that TCF/TEF would have one exam that evaluates you and puts you into the A1-C2 level based on your scores whereas DELF is a level-specific exam.

Why I am taking the exam? 

The B2 level is seen as a passport for job/study opportunities in France/Quebec. Francophone universities require minimum of DELF B2 in their admissions.

How I prepared as a full-time adult: 

Sources estimate the time to reach B2 level takes about 500 to 600 hours of learning however YMMV. Between A1 to B2, I recognize I had about a year of prep work. As a working adult, I probably commit 10 hours a week (actively/passively learning) and here’s what I did which has been identified in the post linked:

  • On the way to work/On the way back from work: I would listen to the French radio such as France Info. If you are starting out, I would recommend Inner French‘s podcast as its meant for intermediate learners and he speaks slow enough and enunciates all the words clearly. The goal of listening to France Info is not to 100% understand everything, but to understand what they are talking about and be able to recognize some vocabulary. Gradually, you will be able to improve your listening skills and understand more details each time you listen to a radio/podcast. I also recommend RFI site to test practise your listening skills.
  • At work:  I will continue listening to podcasts or tune into France24/FranceInfo if what I am doing is not too demanding.
  • Italki lessons: I have been using Italki for about a year now. Thanks to the teachers and tutors, I have been able to improve my pronunciation, writing, speaking and to understand specific nuances of the language. For example, we use ‘perte de temps’ rather than ‘gaspillage de temps’ to indicate waste of time. It gave me an opportunity to speak and be corrected. You can find a teacher that suits your budget. The only downside is whether your teacher can stay committed. Some users might be here for only short time to try out teaching or they might take a break. As a result, I found it hard to stick to just having lessons with one teacher. I would be taking about 2 to 3 lessons per week.
  • Meetups: Search for local language meetups/exchange in your area. In my area, every Saturday, they have a Eng-French exchange group. The advantage is you train yourself in holding basic social conversations in French, downside is you might find it hard to improve outside of the basic social conversation topics you discuss.
  • Reading: I cannot emphasize the importance of starting with reading children’s books meant for 5 year olds.  The key is to get used to how sentences are formed in the language, reinforce the conjugations. After a few months of doing so, I started reading Harry Potter.  and articles from FranceCulture, Lemonde.fr.

Putting incremental amounts of effort slowly goes a long way in learning anything!

Now that I have passed the exam, and while its not as major as C1 level,  I spend between 30 minutes to 1 hour a day on the language through youtube, reading and once a week lesson with a tutor on italki.

Thanks for reading and I will be happy to answer any questions or comments you have!

French immersion in Quebec City

This will be a blog post to write about my French immersion in Quebec City at BLI (Bouchereau Lingua International). I had been planning on taking a full week off work to do a week of French immersion, would have love to do 2 weeks but you know paid vacation days are only so many. I restricted my options to Canada as I didn’t want to deal with currency exchange, jet lag and I had a budget of about C$600. I decided to do my immersion in Quebec City and started researching options on the schools they have (unfortunately, there aren’t many).

Why Immersion?

While I have been taking French classes online and at AF in the last few months, I feel that true way of improving was to immerse myself in a French-speaking environment. It was also a way for me to get out of my introvert shell and meet new people.

How I chose my school?

It was a quick, few hours worth of research on my part. Limiting my options to Quebec City meant I only need to look at several schools to compare. I looked at Ecole Monde Quebec, BLI and Edu-Inter. There were one or two blog posts where people commented their experience at BLI. TripAdvisor also had some commentaries on these schools as well if you search carefully. The general impression I have was that Ecole Monde Quebec and BLI were better. I emailed them both to ask them for their prices.

  1. Ecole Monde Quebec: The website states that the average age of their learners were 40 and above. There were not much available packages to choose from. 20 lessons a week seemed to be the standard deal for C$315 (registration fee excluded). One on one lessons could be added but they were costly imho.
  2. BLI: Here, the learners are the younger crowd (aged 16 to 30) but most people I would say are in their late teens or early 20s. They have part-time, full-time, intensive and super-intensive structure depending on how many hours of the day you would like to learn. In addition to that, the school itself organizes events and tours to the museums (for extra price) that allows you to know Quebec city.

I decided to go with the super-intensive option as I wanted to make full use of my time during the week I was off work to learn. Including registration fees, material fee (no textbook included in this fee, more on that later) and course fee, it was C$555 for an entire week worth of lessons.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated to any of the schools.

Day 1:


The school is located on rue St Joseph, next to Poutineville.

First day! Arrived at 7,45am for registration. There were a few other students, 2 of them who came from Colombia, 1 from Sweden and 1 from Switzerland! We were given a brief tour of the school and told what level we were at.



I had classes from 9 am to 4:35 pm from Monday to Thursday with a break from 12 to 12:50pm. On Friday, classes end at 12nn.

9 – 12 class:

The 9 am to 12 nn class worked on 4 competencies like you would expect in a regular language class. We worked on grammar, vocabulary, listening and all. As the school ran out of copies of Alter Ego 4 to loan me (and me not wanting to buy a copy as I was only there for a week), it was an inconvenience on my side not having a textbook. But we also weren’t using the textbook 100% of the time. If anything, my personal opinion is Alliance Francaise does a better job of teaching the material from Alter Ego.

12:50 to 2.05 class:

Mainly worked on the conversational aspects in this class. We would discuss about certain topics and be asked what our opinions were. The goal of it was to get you be able discuss your opinions.

2:05 to 3:20 class:

I don’t really know the purpose of this class. This week the class centred on a theme about Quebec’s folklore as St. Jean-Baptiste day was coming up on Monday! We listened to stories such as La corriveau, La dame Blanche de Montmorency, La chasse-galerie, etc. It was interesting to see the presence of religious elements such as God and priests in these Québecois stories.

3:20 to 4:35 class:

This was a much smaller class where our teacher asked what areas we want to work on. I wanted to improve my workplace vocabulary so I suggested that.

Overall, for the amount of time I was there, I enjoyed it even if it was less intensive as I had expected. There were activities and you never truly feel like you are learning or in class for the whole day. I did not participate in the excursions organized by the school as they were held in the afternoon. My french did improve a little bit, I was more comfortable in having a conversation. What was more important was most people whom I met, who were there were truly passionate about learning French. Some want to teach French, as for me, I just want to be able to speak fluently some day.

I don’t regret what I did and to me, experiences are very important. 50 years down the road, I would like to look back at my life and be like “I have no regrets whatsoever”. Even if I didn’t like it, then it was an experience to know I didn’t like it and I would have discovered myself in the process.

If you are also reading this and learning french, please share your experience with me!

Perhaps next time, I will try doing a 2 week immersion in France!



Ending my post with a nice scenery of Quebec City!



Tips on picking up French

It has been a long time since the last post of mine. In between working full-time, trying my best to learn a few things outside of those hours as well. Given the fact that I will be writing my DELF B1 exam in a couple of weeks, I’d like to post my last 6/7 months journey of learning French.

  1. Classes 

Yes, I actually signed up for Alliance Française classes after writing the DELF A1 exam. They put me in A2.3 level. I think it was worth it, teachers were professional and classes were structured. I had been re-learning French by myself for a couple of months now, so going for classes not only allowed me to meet new people but also learn French in a structured fashion.


  • Each week, we covered grammatical aspects of French. Teacher really explained as clearly as he could.
  • Each lesson was centered around a theme, which expands your vocabulary. We were encouraged to speak in French and make mistakes!
  • They included some listening exercises as well.
  • One week, we were talking about cultural stuff, another week we were talking about French CVs and stagiares (internships).


  • Classes were expensive (at my area it was $409 for 28 hours of lessons).
  • Each lesson was 4 hours long and not being available on that day would mean I would waste $70.
  • Class timings were limited. It was either a 6 pm lesson 2x a week on the weekdays or 1x a week on Saturday.

I only signed up for two sessions but it did improved my French. At the end of the day, I felt it was a little too expensive and there was nothing which I couldn’t learn by myself if I put more effort into it.

2. iTalki 

In late December, I signed up on iTalki after hearing reviews on Reddit. Pretty much all active language learners by now would know this app. It’s an app which allows you to search for teachers online, handles payment and scheduling of lessons. Depending on your budget, lessons can be around US10 to upwards of US30 ++. When I first started, I was very nervous about finding teachers, sending messages to see if I could book a lesson with them and how to present myself on my first lesson! My first lesson went very well, although I did not stick with that teacher, she was nevertheless a good conversationalist. I would credit a large part of my improvement in speaking in French to iTalki honestly.

My thoughts and opinions on iTalki: 

  • Flexibility. You literally just need to have Skype and internet connection.
  • Finding a teacher. Yes, this is perhaps a more time consuming aspect. It takes effort to find a teacher that clicks with you and your budget.
  • I should dedicate an entire blog post to finding a teacher and using the app effectively but that’s another thing for another day.
  • Always have a few teachers whom you are working with so you can switch around who you are working with! They corrected my mistakes when I speak, but what we do during the lesson differs. With one of my current teachers, she lets me decide what I would like to work on and to tell her beforehand. With another, she has all these materials prepped beforehand on what we will work on.
  • In general, I spend about USD $100 a month on lessons on iTalki. I have about 1 to 2 lessons a week.

3.   Self-studying!

Free. All you need is time, effort and purchase of books or searching for online resources. I studied a lot and very rigorously during weekends and after work for a certain period of time. Things I did:

a) Children’s Books

Yes, I borrowed children’s books from AF to get me reading in French initially. It helped a lot. If you are not willing to read children’s books when you are at an early stage of learning a language, its harder to pick up the structure of the language imho. I am now in the middle of reading Harry Potter on my Kindle.

b) Grammar books

To help me with grammar concepts, I purchased Complete French Grammar, Intermediate French Grammar and Advanced French Grammar from Practice Makes Perfect Series. I am more than halfway through Intermediate French Grammar by now. I am not doing them religiously as I did in the last few months, but they have nevertheless helped me a lot!

c) Radio, Podcasts, News

Yes, one of the struggles language learners face is not only the fear of speaking in that foreign language, but not being able to understand what others are saying as well. I made it a point everyday to listen to something in French. During my obsessive period, I was listening to InnerFrench or FranceInfo on my way to work, on my way home from work, etc. At work, I would stream France24 from time to time. I also went to sites like RFI or TV5Monde to use their listening resources. Over time, it greatly helped improved my ability to listen as fast as they can speak. I am okay listening to news now in general even though I may not understand all the vocabulary but speed-wise, I don’t think they are extremely fast either.

d) Meetups

Last but not least, definitely try Meetups and see if there is some language exchange going on in your area. In the last month or so, I broke out of my shell as a shy person to attend a Francophone/Francophile meet-up where people (francophones and french learners) would gather around to speak French. It was a 15 minute thing, where after 15 mins you change your conversation partner. It was fun and I improved my ability to hold a conversation in a foreign language even if my sentences are not 100% grammatically correct. 

I am no longer obsessed with learning the language as I was few months ago, but I also feel like I am in a more comfortable position now where I could learn it more on the passive side. For example, I just spend 30 mins a day or so listening or reading in French (instead of few hours a day during my obsessive period), have lesson once or twice a week. Learning a language takes more than just learning their grammar and vocabulary. There’s no logical way to explain the grammar rules and you just have to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible to get used to the structure.