From an Italian major who studied la lingua di Dante in Italy

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Italian is a beautiful language — and often, for new learners of the language, a challenging one at that.

But it doesn’t have to be.

As a native English speaker who majored in Italian at university and once did an Italian course at a language school in Italy, I certainly don’t consider myself a great Italian speaker by any means. In fact, the mere thought of writing this article gives me a strong sense of imposter syndrome, which I really struggle to shake off.

However, through a process of trial and error, I do feel I’ve picked up some hacks…

The curious words used in France’s advertising industry

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I’ve always been interested in words. There’s something strange and magical about how we, as a species, can move our mouths to move hearts and minds.

This curiosity is one of the reasons I was drawn to advertising, which weaves words and images to sell ideas. But as a native English-speaking copywriter in a French advertising agency based in Paris, I’m not just a writer of words; I’m student of the language used by every creative not on Emily in Paris.

Of course, every industry has its own slang terms that only make sense to those working in it, and…

Quarantine life in Covid-free New Zealand

A meal in managed isolation. Picture by William Sidnam.

I leave my room and take the lift down to the lobby. Walking past a nurse-occupied business suite, and rows of plexiglass-covered desks in reception, I reach the hotel entrance and give my room number to the security guard on duty.

“Enjoy the fresh air if you can,” she says before pressing a button on the wall. The doors slide open and I step outside.

As a guest in self-isolation, I don’t go outside very often. In fact, over the last week I’ve been mostly confined to my room. After testing negative, though, I was given a blue bracelet that…

The Jardin des Tuileries in October 2020. Photo by William Sidnam.

This probably wasn’t the best year to go on a working holiday.

Seeing how the last twelve months have unraveled, that really goes without saying. But just like the year itself, hindsight is always twenty-twenty.

When I arrived in Paris at the start of March, no one knew a pandemic was less than six feet away from sweeping the globe. Fast-forward several months, and round-the-clock window gazing is back on the agenda.

We’re now four weeks into the reconfinement. …

A review of Guy Deutscher's 'Through the Looking Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages'

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When you study translation theory, you quickly establish a couple of things: 1) Academics can’t agree on anything; and 2) Reading articles about language can be pretty tough-going.

Like many academic articles, pieces on language can often suffer from turgid prose. But thankfully, not all authors possess the gift of the drab. In Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, Israeli linguist Guy Deutscher has written a delightful book about a question bound to arouse anyone’s curiosity: how does the language we speak shape how we perceive life, the universe, and everything else?

At the…

A quick look at Christopher Nolan's time-bending blockbuster

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Why saying '96' requires a little arithmetic

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I’ve never been great with numbers.

Seriously, if you asked me to solve a mathematical equation, I would get it wrong nine times out of eight.

But that all pales in comparison to my struggles with French numbers, whose mere existence fill me with an unquantifiable dread.

It’s pretty embarrassing, honestly. After all, numbers are usually one of the first things you encounter when you start learning a language. But for whatever reason, my brain has trouble recognising French numbers the way that it does English ones.

That’s not to say I don’t know French numbers; I do know them…

Exploring a popular Paris tourist site during the pandemic

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Q. What is a Parisian?

A. A person who hates Paris yet couldn’t live elsewhere.

Or so the old joke goes. I heard it eight years ago from a friend who didn’t mind making fun of Parisians, himself included.

Like a lot of jokes, it may contain an element of truth. But whether it does or not, at least one thing is sure: at the height of summer, the butts of the joke were nowhere in sight.

As France began its annual leave, Paris had returned to being lockdown quiet. You could wander down avenues and not cross a stranger’s…

English is a much stranger language that I had imagined

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One of the stranger things about learning a foreign language is that you often end up learning quite a bit about your native tongue. That has certainly been the case for me, anyway; while learning Italian, I’ve come to learn quite a few things about English that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

Here are some things I’ve learnt about English while studying Italian.

English grammar actually exists

When I attended school, I learnt very little grammar. In fact, aside from being taught a few grammar rules — including the unhelpfully incorrect ‘rule’ that you must never start sentences with ‘And’ or ‘But’ —…

Enhance your imagination, one exposure at a time

Photo by William Sidnam

Writing and photography might seem pretty odd bedfellows. While the former traffics in words, the latter is decidedly visual. What’s more, since writers tend to think more in words than in pictures, photography might not seem the most obvious hobby to practice.

But in my experience, photography is the ideal pastime for writers— and no, it’s not just because it’s a great way to put off writing. As a creative who spends his days at a keyboard, I originally picked up a camera as a means to escape the insufferable agony of putting pen to paper. But while taking photos…

William Sidnam

New Zealand creative based in Paris. Advertising copywriter, newspaper contributor and teller of tales. Emailable at

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