BOOK NOTES: Duo of E-Books Makes Learning French, English Easier

By David M. Kinchen

BOOK NOTES: Duo of E-Books Makes Learning French, English Easier

An excellent aid for learning another language is to see how native speakers of that language think about yours. The other is to think about the language the way the native speakers do rather than how grammarians divide and describe it for other grammarians.

These are the two premises that underlie a duo of new self-instructional books by author Philip A. Yaffe titled Actual English: English Grammar as Native Speakers Really Use It and Gentle French: French Grammar as Native Speakers Really Use It.

 Both are published as ebooks and are available from the Kindle store of I read "Actual English" in the pdf form submitted by Yaffe and I read the Kindle edition of "Gentle French" (cost $5.40) downloaded to my Cruz Tablet (Android operating system) via the Kindle store app. I'm an English major and I took two years (four semesters) of college French.  

BOOK NOTES: Duo of E-Books Makes Learning French, English Easier

"Gentle French" is the first book I'm reviewing that I read in the e-book format and I found it very convenient, thanks to the features of the Cruz Tablet, which I purchased last month at Radio Shack. It's made by Velocity Micro Electronics of Richmond, VA, a designer and manufacturer of high-end gaming computers and sold for a lot less than the iPad I was thinking of buying -- and not much more than a limited function Kindle e-reader. With built-in wi-fi and a SD card slot, it's a great way of browsing the Web, viewing pictures and videos, and listening to music.

By the way, the New York Times last month reported  (

 that e-books are for the first time outselling print books. "Since April 1, Amazon sold 105 books for its Kindle e-reader

 for every 100 hardcover and paperback books, including books without Kindle versions and excluding free e-books," The Times reported. The 

newspaper also said that Amazon is considering marketing its own Android-based tablet, which would be similar to my Cruz and other

tablets using the Android operating system which has been owned by Google for more than five years now. Wheels within wheels!

Those public domain e-books are a delight for readers of classic books, since they're available free of charge. 

I downloaded "Dracula" by Bram Stoker, as well as a half-dozen other books to my Cruz. Check out

 the Kindle store for dozens of free classic e-books that you can read at your own speed.

 Actual English" is specifically designed for French speakers learning English; Gentle French is specifically designed for English speakers learning French. However taken together, they can help speakers of either language more easily learn the other,” says author Philip A. Yaffe, a former writer with The Wall Street Journal and an international marketing communication consultant living in BrusselsBelgium. I've reviewed a number of print books by Yaffe  including  "In The I of the Storm" and "The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like 

a Professional." (check out my Jan. 8, 2011 review of the latter on this site).


“Like most Americans, I grew up speaking only English and never expected to speak anything else. I have now become fluent in two languages (French, Swahili) and have a working knowledge of several others (Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish), largely thanks to discovering and applying these two fundamental pedagogical principles,” Yaffe told me in an email.

 “Learning another language will never be easy, but it can be made significantly less difficult by adopting the correct psychological approach,” he adds.

 In particular, for Anglophones (English speakers) learning French and Francophones (French speakers) learning English, he recommends the following sequence of events:

1. Basic grammar — the minimum necessary to put together an intelligible (if incorrect) sentence

2. Basic vocabulary — the minimum necessary to begin using the basic grammar

3. Elaborated grammar and vocabulary — building on basic grammar and vocabulary as soon as you can actually use them

4. Writing — tackling the daunting task of putting the language on paper.

 “The fact is, the secret of learning a language is not grammar. It’s vocabulary,”  Yaffe added. “If you don’t know the verb you need, it doesn’t matter that you know how to conjugate verbs; you still cannot speak. If you don’t know the adjective you need, it doesn’t matter that you know how to decline French adjectives; you still cannot speak. And so on.

 “If you can rapidly lay down basic grammar, then concentrate on rapidly building a functional vocabulary, you are likely to achieve competence (if not fluency) much more rapidly than if you try to do both at the same time.”

 Another secret to rapidly acquiring another language is to concentrate on its simplicities rather than its complexities, he says.

 “However difficult a language may look, there are bound to be aspects of it that are easier than the equivalents in your native language. This is especially true of English and French. This is why Gentle French includes a section titled Seven Ways French Is Easier than English.”

 Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, he claims that French pronunciation is easier than English pronunciation because it has no tonic accent.

 Yaffe: "Tonic accent simply means that certain syllables in a word are given more stress than are others. For example, in English we say un-i-VER-sal, with stress on the third syllable. In French, this is un-i-ver-sel, with no apparent stress anywhere. Likewise with REST-au-rant, this time with stress on the first syllable. In French this is simply rest-au-rant. And so on. Thus, you never make a mistake. If you are a native Anglophone, you have grown up with the tonic accent, so you might not immediately appreciate what a blessing this is. But imagine the difficulty faced by a Francophone learning English and you quickly will."

 The two books are self-contained, so each one can be read without reference to the other. However,  Yaffe suggests that they could be used symbiotically.

 “First read the book about the language you are trying to learn, then read the book about your own language. The insights you will gain from this two-way process should make learning the language you are interested in significantly easier. It might even teach you some important things about your own language, as well,” he concludes.

Both French and English are spelling nightmares, he writes, and, not surprisingly, Francophone and Anglophone countries are the only ones that have spelling bees. Both languages are enough to make one long for Esperanto with its simple grammar and regular spelling! 

About the Author Philip A. Yaffe was born in Boston in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles. In 1965 he graduated in mathematics from UCLA (University of CaliforniaLos Angeles), where he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, the daily student newspaper.

 He has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and marketing communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an account executive with a major international press relations agency, European marketing communication director with two major international companies, and a founding partner of a marketing communication agency in near Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974. He is author of six self-help books available in digital format. In addition to Actual English and Gentle Frenchhis other books are:

● The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional

● The Gettysburg Collection, A comprehensive companion to The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional