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Madeleine W.
French & Music Teacher
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French
TutorMe
Question:

Why is speaking French considered chic and polite?

Madeleine W.
Answer:

Aside from the historical role of French in imperialistic Europe (when speaking French was mandatory for colonized/enslaved countries such as Algeria and a symbol of social status in colonizing nations like England), the French language is still as linguistically rich today as it was 100 years ago. English is also a rich language, with many different tenses. Although grammarians and linguists argue about how many there actually are, most tend to settle on twelve English tenses (or fewer). Not all languages have even close to this number; Hebrew has only three. French, however, puts English to shame with fourteen tenses (fourteen!). Already French can be seen as a very structually complex language. Within these fourteen tenses are included tenses never spoken, but only written or read, for which English (and many other languages) have no equivalent. This means, if you spoke French, you would have to learn and master a second form of the language, so to speak, just to be able to read the language you already speak. Talk about elitism! In addition, French has numerous ways of describing the past, many of which English again has no translation. For example, to translate the past tense in English for "I swim" ("I swam"), any one of the following could be chosen in speech: "je nageais," "j'ai nagé," or "j'eus nagé"--and each one means something slightly different! Lastly, French has many subtleties. For instance, a speaker could use sarcasm in both English and French, but what French does not usually permit is change in intonation and voice volume to emphasize sarcastic meanings which English speakers use ubiquitously. Instead, words must be carefully arranged in order to convey sarcasm, lending a very subtle tone to idiomatic expressions and insults. It is precisely for this linguistic reason that syntactically and semantically complex insults became a sort of hobby among aristocrats in pre-revolutionary France. The more subtly intellectual and hurtful a nobleman's words were during this period, the higher his social status could become, meaning the more power he could wield in the king's court. Even today, the French praise each other for how they choose their words, favoring people with a delicate turn of phrase. French isn't called "la belle langue" (the beautiful language) for no reason! No wonder it was and sometimes is still considered the language of the elite.

Music Theory
TutorMe
Question:

What is the difference between 3/4 and 4/4, and why don't we usually see odd time signatures like 5/4 or 7/4 in music?

Madeleine W.
Answer:

Since the top number of the musical time signature is the number of beats per measure, and the bottom number refers the type of note that gets the beat, 3/4 music gets three beats per measure, while 4/4 music gets four beats. Both use the quarter note (think: 1/4, where 4 is still the bottom number) to count the beat. In the same vein, 3/2 time signature would have three beats per measure, but this time the half note (think of the fraction 1/2, where 2 is still the bottom number) would be counted for the beat. We don't typically find odd time signatures in most musical songs or pieces, although we do find many even time signatures such as 2/4, 4/4, 6/8, or even 12/8. This is because our world, including our physiological struture can often be divided into twos or fours. Think about your breath: you breathe in and out--two beats, which multiplied will become four beats. Your heartbeat has two pulses as well. We run on two legs, with two beats per set, which, again, is a basic factor of four. We find it easier to create even time signatures (that can all be divided into four beats), dance in four-beat rhythm, or even exercise in four beats, because it is part of our nature. We have a much harder time doing any of these things with odd time signatures. 3/4 signature is relatively easy to manage, with dance forms such as the waltz or fandango. Multiplications of 3, including 12/8, 9/8, or 6/8 time signatures, are also relatively manageable, albeit still against our human nature (you get sent to the cardiologist is your heart has three beats instead of two!). However, more complex odd forms such as 5/4, 7/8, or 11/8 are increasingly difficult to write and perform. These difficult time signatures are therefore rare to see in music, being highly against nature. Dancing or exercising in 5, 7, 11, 13, or any other odd-numbered beat, for us humans, poses a difficult time (pun intended).

Linguistics
TutorMe
Question:

Which language is harder to learn: Spanish or Japanese?

Madeleine W.
Answer:

Neither language is inherently more difficult for a neutral language learner. All children learn their native languages equally easily, effectively, and fluently (disregarding developmental and intellectual disorders that may affect cognitive skills). A child with two native languages, all environmental barriers aside, will learn both the same way and with the same ease and fluency. Otherwise said, any of us who have a native language--and we ALL do--has zero difficulty thinking in and using our native language. However, one language might be somewhat easier to acquire if the learner's native language is close in structure to the target language. An adult Italian speaker might find Spanish to be very easy to learn since both are Romance languages, but Japanese would be very difficult since Japanese belongs to a different language family. Likewise, an adult Korean speaker in adulthood might have a vastly easier time learning Japanese than Spanish, since Korean and Japanese are a bit more similar in syntax, phonology, and semantics. An adult Hebrew speaker, however, will most likely find both languages rather difficult, since Hebrew is very different in structure from both Romance languages like Spanish and Italian and East Asian languages like Japanese and Korean.

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