(It’s Bastille Day, if you needed an excuse to buy a book!)

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Happy Bastille Day to all French people and Francophiles out there! France has opened its borders back up to travelers from the US, but it’s still not the easiest thing in the world to go there right now. But if you’re hankering after a little bit of France, and wine and cheese won’t quite scratch the itch, maybe these new books will, all of them out in the US in 2021.

A Boring Wife Settles the Score, by Marie-Renée Lavoie, translated by Arielle Aaronson

Advice from a language tutor

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One of the best ways to improve your language learning and widen your vocabulary is to read. But not reading just any way.

If you’re the super-diligent type, you might well be tempted to stop at every word you don’t understand and look it up. I applaud your enthusiasm, but I’d advise you not to do that. Firstly, because it will take a long time, and you will quickly become discouraged when reading one article or a couple of pages of a book takes the best part of an hour. Secondly, because it’s often unnecessary.

When you read in your…

It might be one of these…

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Which language should I learn?

Ask yourself why you want to learn. Are you drawn to the literature of a particular place? Is there somewhere you can go on holiday, where you can put into practice what you have learned? Are you simply wanting to give it a go to see if you can — in which case a less complex language might be a good place to start — or are you wanting to challenge yourself by learning something renowned to be difficult?

Or maybe you’re learning for professional reasons. If your company does a lot of business with one particular place, the language…

Thrillers, romance, and more

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It’s always fun to read books set where you live — and this is doubly true when you live in a city full of ambitious types and political shenanigans. Here are 9 great newly or about-to-be published books set in DC to look for this year.

Admit This To No One, by Leslie Pietrzyk (November 9, The Unnamed Press)

to get you started with learning a European language

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If you’re learning a language, at some point you’ll need to learn the technical terms for the elements of grammar, so that you can better understand, analyse, and process how it is put together. As children, we do this instinctively — linguist Noam Chomsky theorised that we do this through an innate Language Aquisition Device. Once we are adults, however, the process is more laboured. These building blocks will help.


A verb is usually an action word. Something that you can do or be: I am is from the verb to be. I walk is from the verb to walk.

For your beach bag this summer

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The past is a rich and varied place, and there are all kinds of fascinating stories to be found there. If you love historical fiction, but you need a break from the World War II setting which has been popular over the last few weeks, dip your toe into one of these books.

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Yes, I heard that groan

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I heard that. That groan.

“It’s just,” you say. “It’s just, well, do I have to?”

You can try learning a language without grammar if you like. There are plenty of language learning programs that claim you can. You can also try building a tent without any pegs. I just wouldn’t recommend it.

You get the analogy, hopefully, without my having to drive it home. Grammar is what holds the language together.

Depending on your age and the education system you grew up in, you might hate grammar because it was drilled into you until it came out of your…

Big stories from the Big Apple

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New York City has long been a great playground for authors exploring a multitude of worlds in their fiction. Whether it’s the art scene, publishing, theatre, or mingling with the rich and powerful, there’s something for everyone in these six novels published this year, perfect for throwing into your beach bag this summer.

Astrid Sees All, by Natalie Standiford

To help them get to know their city

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If you want to help your baby or toddler get to know Washington, DC, there are a lot of great books that can help. We haven’t been out and about much in the last year, so reading about the monuments, museums, and more, can help them feel at home in the nation’s capital and learn the positive values and culture of the city.

How do you make those pesky new words stick in your mind?

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A big part of language learning is about understanding and remembering words. I have some tips for how to find useful words to learn and how to help your memory do its job well.

Buy a notebook

If you love stationery as much as I do, buy a pretty notebook. Buy the kind that you weren’t allowed for school as a child because your parents said it was too expensive. And while you’re there, buy some gel pens.

If you’re the practical type and like to categorise things, buy an Atoma or similar — one whose pages you can tear out and replace…

Claire Handscombe

Editor of WALK WITH US: How the West Wing Changed Our Lives; author of the novel UNSCRIPTED and of CONQUERING BABEL: a Practical Guide to Learning a Language.

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