I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had devised a new idea for practicing my spoken French as well as a new idea for practicing my written French. I was obviously overly ambitious because I have made zero progress on either of those things since.
I also kind of stopped watching the French shows I had started. Though in my defense on that one, I don’t watch a lot of TV anyway, so that plan was pretty much doomed from the get-go.
This lack of progress in French is mostly because I have also been learning web development, and my focus has been more on that lately.
This is actually sort of a theme with me. I come up with a great idea, and then something shinier comes along and I chase after it promising myself that I will get back to that great idea in a few days. I even throw my willpower a bone by doing a more passive form of whatever my idea was.
In this case, I have been religiously working on DuoLingo lessons for French instead of my (probably) far more effective videos and translations. DuoLingo is a great app for refresher work, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of actual learning.
Anyway, for those of you with more willpower than me, here are some of the things I have tried (and often failed) to do to gain greater fluency. Some are probably bad ideas anyway, but this has been my French language journey thus far:
1. Translating a French book
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but when I was 12, I decided I was going to learn French because I found a copy of an old French book at a thrift store. Then there was a book fair at school and I bought a French/English dictionary. Actually, those events may have happened in reverse.
In either case, my (terrible) plan was to translate the book using a dictionary and thus learn the other language. Despite the impractical nature of this method, I returned to it multiple times over the years. I think I finally made it to the end of chapter one when I was 17, and then I stopped again.
2. Learn French coloring book
This came shortly after the translation attempt. Some family member took pity on my attempts and bought me a coloring book of sorts with the pictures labeled in French. This is where I learned the words “l’éléphant” and “le balcon.”
I don’t believe I made it all the way through this book, either. I do think I held on to it throughout high school, but it has since vanished.
3. High School classes and textbooks
I took two years of French in high school. My teacher was Canadian. At this point in my French-speaking life, I had actually picked up quite a bit of the language. I had all of the greetings, alphabet, numbers, and conjugation of present tense -ER verbs down.
Basically, anything in the first five chapters of every beginning French textbook imaginable, I already knew when I started these classes. This was unfortunate because that is all that we covered in those two years.
On a good note, I did meet a lovely German exchange student in the second year. I wish I had kept in touch with him.
Also, I somehow ended up keeping the textbook we used, and I eventually read through the whole thing. Limited effectiveness, but I’m sure it helped a bit.
4. Reading French for Dummies
For a while, I had a goal of reading one chapter of this book per week. Unfortunately, the content is intended for beginners. This means that I found very little of it actually useful to me.
The only thing that I didn’t end up skimming over was the vocabulary. I think if I had developed a method for studying the vocab from the book, it might have actually been helpful to me. As things stood, there was very little of interest for me.
5. College courses
I also took two years of French in college. For some reason, I took elementary French I and II when I could have easily leapt into the Intermediates. Still, reinforcement is probably good, and if nothing else, the early classes gave me a chance to actually practice speaking with people.
But here is the problem with college courses. At least in Oklahoma, part of the general education curriculum for a Bachelor’s degree requires that students take two semesters of a language. This produces the same issue I had with high school classes: many students don’t want to be there and will try to scrape by with the bare minimum.
They didn’t want to actually learn French, so trying to actually speak with them in class activities was difficult if not downright impossible. It could also have been nervousness on their part, but it is exceedingly hard to have a conversation with someone who won’t talk to you.
A few of my favorite sites are:
- TV5monde has lots of documentaries, newscasts, and video lessons available for free. They’re high quality, too. My main issue with the site is that finding lessons at your level can be difficult. There are tests to help you place what level you are at overall, though.
- BBC Languages is no longer updated, but it also has video lessons and links to immersion resources. It is geared more towards beginners.
- FluentU is a startup with video lessons that use real-world content like music videos. It’s an immersion method, which is definitely touted as the most effective for learning. Unlike the other two on my list, it isn’t free. But they do offer great tips for language learning on their blog, and that is free.
I’m pretty sure that I have used many many other sites over the years, but obviously they did not make enough of an impression for me to stick with them.
My main issue with websites that help learn languages is that they often focus on beginners so much that anyone not at that level may have a hard time finding anything useful on them. Of course, this is because non-beginners have vast variances in knowledge. So, I understand the problem and the cause, but the solution eludes me.
In The future
I really do want to get back into doing my translating and video ideas. But I also want to find people to chat with online in French. Meeting people near me who speak French would also be great, but it’s not exactly popular in my area.
That said, I know there is so much available online that I should be able to reach my fluency goals. It’s just finding the thing that works for me that has been and continues to be the problem. Well, that and an apparent inability to focus on more than one skill at a time.
Et oui, c’est possible que je devrais écrire cet article en français, mais c’est principalement pour les étudiants de français comme moi qui (peut-être) ne comprend pas les écritures très bien. Et je suis paresseuse aujourd’hui.