Here I tell the story how I learned my French. Well, the story is not complete and I still plan to improve my French in the future (I have been doing that passively for a lot of time already and still haven’t taken up the task actively again). Also, I did not achieve fluency and it was just a long long way how I acquired some language. But hey, I can speak it now and I thought it might be interesting so here goes.
I began to learn French in September, 2005. It was more than a year after I had finished teaching myself Esperanto and I was eager to try learning a new language. There was no specific reason I needed to learn French for… I just thought it would be fun.
I first started by… trying to learn the grammar on the Internet. As you may have guessed, it wasn’t a very bright idea. After a bit of struggle, still practically with no knowledge whatsoever (except the difference between c and ç which turned out not to be so practical after all) I decided to find alternative ways to learn it.
French Audio Courses
I got Pimsleur then. Pimsleur, is an audio course which consits of lectures 30 minutes long each. They have you listen to a dialogue, then repeat the sentences and then make you repeat it, slightly shifting them from time to time. They had 3 segments with 30 lessons each, each lesson 30 minutes long. If we do the maths, it’s around 45 hours of learning (maybe a bit less, since some lessons are slightly shorter than 30 minutes). I didn’t even have an mp3 player at that time (remember, it’s 2005) so I just had to listen to this whole course sitting at my PC with my headset on. I used to do one lesson a day and I was very persistent at it. It took me about 3 months to finish the course.
Three monts had passed. I thought I would be pretty proficient in French by that time. Well, guess what… I wasn’t. Listening to the course had made me a somewhat okay tourist but not more. To give it some credit, Pimsleur taught the pronunciation quite well. The numbers as well. The numbers (at least one to ten) had become pretty natural to me and I wouldn’t need to think about them anymore. That’s good.
However, I felt like I lacked the most fundamental knowledge in French so while I knew that voulez-vous something something stands for “can you do something something” but if I recall correctly I didn’t even know that voulez-vous literally stands for “do you want” (the details may not be accurate but you get the point). For this reason, I think that if I was beginning to learn French again, I wouldn’t do Pimsleur.
Then I found out about Michel Thomas and got myself Michel Thomas – French Foundation. It was something totally different. At first I was a bit sceptical but it didn’t take me long to get excited. Long story short, I ended up doing Michel Thomas – French Language Builder and Michel Thomas – Advanced French in a matter of days. I know it’s not the case for everybody but me personally, I adore Michel Thomas and his teaching has inspired a lot of what I do on the site. I believe he really helped me get the basic French down and made me really understand what the language was about.
Reading – Practice, Practice, Practice
Back at that time, I didn’t know much about learning languages but using Esperanto had helped me learn it so I thought the same would work for French. That’s how I realized I needed some practice.
The easiest place to get practice for me at that time seemed reading. I managed to find a copy of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I hadn’t read the book before so it was exciting that I could read in the original. But… I didn’t just read it. I listened to the audio version of the same book at the same type as well. So, I would just sit down, open the book, turn on the audio, listen and read at the same time.
This worked really well. First, it was interesting. Second, I could learn a lot of vocabulary and grammar like this. Third, I got the pronunciation down. One thing I noticed was that I could understand a lot of Le Petit Prince already. I wouldn’t really translate anything unless there was a paragraph or something that I totally wouldn’t get and there were some words used often in that paragraph.
Further Studying Attemps – A Grammar Book
Then I made a mistake. I bought a book called Tempo : Méthode de français that they use in French classes (it came with an audio casette) hoping to be able to teach myself some more French. The book was about intermediate level and I didn’t have any major problems understanding but it had one major problem of other kind… it was boring!
I don’t know, maybe it’s more fun when you are doing it in a class but as for me, I got through about one fifth of the book until I realized that it just wasn’t gonna work.
Getting more practice – Podcasts
I then moved to podcasts. I love audio content so it seemed like a good choice.
I found out about FrenchPodClass and I listened to it. The podcast is okay but the problem is: the guy used to speak English. A bit too much English.
So, it was not nearly intensive enough for me. Even though I would listen to the show sometimes, it was more for the culture and for the music rather than language learning. Nevertheless, I liked it and they even had contests where I participated a couple of times and even won a magazine in French and a book neither of which I have read (unfortunately).
Later on, I did some LillePodcast which was different. It had a text in French and then it had the explanations in French of the text. It worked well to learn French but I didn’t always really dig into the content of the shows.
Then I did some chatting with people in French on the Internet. It’s nothing special, really, you just get an IRC client and go try to find French people eager to talk to you. In theory it might seem like a good idea but in practice it’s not only learning but also a lot of wasted time. Still, I believed this helped me a bit.
I probably wouldn’t do it again, though. I mean, I would find a place to practice but wouldn’t go too IRC. IRC is great and I very much like it but it’s too wild and definitely not the ideal place for language practice (save for Esperanto).
The final thing I did was I took a French class. The bad thing about that class was that it was just like all classes: it was slow and we learnt grammar in the old-fashioned ways. The good thing was that it was free and we still got to do some practice. I got some nice speaking practice, as well as reading practice and the teacher even showed us a couple of episodes from the French TV.
Other things I did and the present
After that, I didn’t really learn French actively. During that period, I went to France twice but not for more than a week both stays combined. I have met quite a few French during my French studies and practiced the language with them as well. I have even gone to a few French club meetings in the meantime. This all was good practice.
This is what it is. My French is nowhere near perfect now and I still can’t understand movies in French and reading French newspapers is a bit hard although I think I could get myself to that level with some persistance. Last time I saw a French lazy sitting next to me in a train reading a magazine and I could understand all of the headlines so I guess I could try reading it as well. I am able to converse in French and get my point across pretty well and I would speak 100% French without many problems during my stays in France (unless somebody else would initiate speaking English but that would only happen with non-native speakers).
I still plan to learn French better some day and even go to France for an extended stay but for now these are beyond the scope of the story.
Posted under: Specific Advice