How To Best Learn French

Sep 7th, 2008, 05:54 PM
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How To Best Learn French

(I need to explain up-front that I do not have an aptitude for languages and my pronunciation is usually laughable) I will be spending 3 weeks in Paris in May and I would like to be able to speak basic French while there. I took French in high school (eons ago) and do remember some. Do you recommend one source over another - Rosetta Stone, Berlitz, private lessons or anything else you might suggest. Merci.
kathyandrick2 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2008, 06:04 PM
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And when you find out, please tell me.

Seriously, I take classes, both French and Italina, listen to tapes and courses (various brands) and I'm just not very good at either.

I start another French class next week. I think taking a class is helpful, depending on how good the teacher is, and how dedicated the student.

I guess I'm saying that looking for success from a certain brand of course hasn't made me fluent.

I do get along, and I guess that's pretty good. Three weeks in Paris will have you speaking more French than any language course, IMO. I do best when immersed.

My suggestion, for what it's worth, is take a class now and next semester, listen to tapes, practice, etc.

Bon chance!
tuscanlifeedit is online now  
Sep 7th, 2008, 06:33 PM
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The "best" way is different for each individual, and you have to experiment with many different approaches to find what works for you. Do you learn things more easily from people or on your own? By seeing or by listening?

I too took French in high school but retained next to nothing. Over the years (actually, decades), I've bought numerous sets of books and tapes/CDs but made no progress at all. Finally, about a year and a half ago, I found what works for me-- reading real books that interest me instead of textbooks. I began with extremely easy childrens' books such as Le Petit Prince, then moving on to the French translation of the Harry Potter series (which was perfect for this purpose because the first book was for 8 to 11-year-olds, and the sequels gradually got more complicated as the readers grew up along with the characters). After that, I moved on to original French versions of non-children's books whose English translations I had already read, and now (very slowly) some new French novels. For listening, I have the Radio France website playing on my computer whenever I'm home-- even without really paying attention, a lot of words somehow just soak it!

After finally figuring out what works for me, I made far more progress in just 1 year than in the several decades before that. When I retook the placement test for the Alliance Francaise, I jumped 4 levels ahead of where they were going to put me last time! So try a little of everything and see what works best for you. Is there an Alliance Francaise near you? They have a workshop class for those getting ready for a trip.
MademoiselleFifi is offline  
Sep 7th, 2008, 06:44 PM
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One more thing-- this sounds silly but works-- if it's too intimidating to practice on people in the beginning, speak it only to your pet for a while!
MademoiselleFifi is offline  
Sep 7th, 2008, 06:57 PM
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Bookmarking - great suggestions, Mlle. Fifi!!
tara3056 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2008, 07:01 PM
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Great idea...but that really ought to confuse by German Shephard dog!!!
kathyandrick2 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2008, 07:09 PM
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I get the best results by taking a class. I'm sure private tutoring would be even better if you can afford it.

To make any significant progress in only 8 months if you can do something more often than 1x/week that's even better.

I've not had good luck learning from DVD's or tapes on my own. They are OK as back-up WHEN you are taking classes to practice, but did not work at all for me as a primary learning method.

You need to learn to *speak* and not be shy about it. Why a class works best imo.
suze is offline  
Sep 7th, 2008, 07:09 PM
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I have checked and there is no Alliance Francaise near me. However, all of the suggestions have been great. I think I will head to the bookstore tomorrow and look for some very beginning French readers.
kathyandrick2 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2008, 07:17 PM
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elsiemoo's monthly "Diet and Exercise" thread in the lounge has been very motivating (although I haven't posted much there, just reading it pushes me to exercise more regularly). Would any of you be interested in starting a similar thread for language-learning?
MademoiselleFifi is offline  
Sep 7th, 2008, 10:05 PM
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First a comment about using French in Paris. While I have taken many years of college level French courses, the only places that let me complete whole transactions in French in Paris were taxi and small shops not usually serving tourist. Hotels and restaurants workers quickly switched to English once I uttered a few words of French.

This was not the case for smaller towns.

Private lessons from a good instructor, if you can afford it, would be a very good option.

Since I did not want to pay that much, I took college level credit classes at a local state college. Unlike day classes, most students were working adults, not twenty something students.Yyou have pretty much an entire year before your trip.

I supplemented the college classes with Pimsleur French series. They are good for pronunciation practice and getting the feel for the word orders but needs to be supplemented by a separate grammar instructions.
greg is offline  
Sep 8th, 2008, 09:30 AM
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I would also recommend a real live class as the best option. Alliance Francaise isn't the only school, there are lots of other good ones, and certainly any regular university/college/community college should have French classes, and perhaps some class at night.

I did about the same as greg, above, as I really wanted to learn the language seriously, so I just took a regular university-level course at night for two years, then went on to various Alliance Francaise or other courses to keep it up, and use some CDs occasionally to brush up.

If you are really serious, you can't learn a language (especially someone who has no aptitude for it and a terrible pronunciation) on your own from tapes.

A guy on Fodors, robjame, posted a link some time ago about an online tutor he had in French which was very interesting, and he said he was learning a lot. If you have no classes near you at all, that would be a good possibility, I think. You have to use Skpe online, I believe, and it is $20 an hour.
Christina is offline  
Sep 8th, 2008, 09:59 AM
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I used MyPlt a few months ago based on robjame recommendation and I think thats a good suggestion from Christina. I used it to supplement my german class, I did one hour a week but you can do whatever you like. I found it really helpful, you can either work on what you want or the teacher will suggest different exercises. I ended up stopping after about 6 lessons as my teacher was leaving, my class ending and I was in the middle of moving and really busy. I will likely pick it up again when I have more time.
kellyee21 is offline  
Sep 8th, 2008, 12:15 PM
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I've had a chance to talk to robjame about that online tutor and it does sound like a good idea.

I tried something a little different this summer: 4 weeks (140 hours) of intensive French language training at the Halifax campus of Université Sainte Anne:

I took a placement test a few weeks before classes started and they assigned me to the advanced class. I was initially a bit daunted, but being in a situation that "forced" me to participate gave me both the impetus I needed and a huge boost in confidence in my ability to speak French.

There were only four of us in the class, and our day was split between two instructors. We started each day with a conversation warm-up, typically starting with "What did you do over the weekend (or last evening)?" and then moving on to newspaper/internet articles on current events. (We hashed fuel prices, tasers, war crimes, human rights, Africa, and genetically modified foods to death.) We practiced writing letters, we researched topics and led discussions with the intermediate class, we practiced pronunciation, we did role plays, we played both Monopoly and Scrabble in French, we watched a French movie, and we made a couple of field trips, including a visit to a local museum where the museum guides conducted the tour in French (and then put us through role plays!).

All of this was blended with a daily grammar lesson and a daily vocabulary session. We also wrote a practice test each week and a final test on the last morning.

It was hard work (and being a retired guy, having to commute to an 8:15 start five days a week felt a bit too much like being employed), but the truth is I loved it. Might not work for everyone, but it was great for me.

AnselmAdorne is offline  
Sep 8th, 2008, 12:44 PM
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If you have access to itunes and an mp3 player, you might try Coffee Break French. It's a podcast which presents languages in short, themed lessons. I listened to the first 3 Spanish lessons on our last trip to Mexico, and used at least 3-4 phrases during that trip. It won't have you conversing fluently, but it is good for "tourist" language.

melissa19 is offline  
Sep 8th, 2008, 01:14 PM
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..At least IMO, classes are the way to go as a beginner (Alliance Francais or perhaps a local high school/college night course). Once you have some foundation, I think the next step is immersion. How one does this varies (I had a French speaking BF..but not everyone has this opportunity). I think if you have some foundation, what you learn at the time of immersion is exponention. I think to through oneself into immersion as an adult without some of the basics is probably a bit of a waste of the opportunity.
travelbunny is offline  
Sep 8th, 2008, 01:15 PM
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..whoops I have trouble with English...
travelbunny is offline  
Sep 8th, 2008, 01:32 PM
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I've been studying French off and on since high school and college, and by far the most helpful experiences have been "total immersion" programs in France. I spent two weeks in Tours at the Centre Lingistique Pour Etrangers several years ago, and last fall I attended Coeur de France for a week in Sancerre.

In Tours I lived with a French family so it was truly French 24/7, and CLE was a high quality, intensive language school; I really learned a lot there. I should probably write a little trip report about my week in Sancerre, if a year later; it was good but I would not rate it as highly as I did CLE. And a week is not enough time; for a first time, especially, I would recommend a minimum of 2 weeks.

AA, your program sounds as though it was very good; how good to be able to find something like that w/o going all the way to France! I, too, tested into the advanced levels, and whereas I felt that it was a bit of a stretch for me, it's really the way to learn, IMO.

Good luck, everyone, with learning a new language; I think it takes a lifetime, but it's fun doing it.
grandmere is offline  
Sep 8th, 2008, 01:51 PM
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From one who speaks a few languages, I'd have to say that the best way I've experienced to learn one is to surround yourself as much as you can with the language, so that you are constantly reminded of the words, what they mean and how you pronounce them.

I know that this can be difficult when living in a non-french (or German or Italian) speaking environment, but this is why many beginner/intermediate level classes plaster the room with labels stuck to objects with their foreign word equivalent. Its expands your vocabulary which really is the building block for progress.
Why not make cards and place them around the house against everyday objects ? Once you know the words for say bread and butter, jam, eggs, newspapers, soap, armchair, etc. and even for more complex items and objects, without having to think of them, you want to learn sentences using them when you see them, and the rest will be easier (not easy, but easier).

Speaking of 'the rest', your learning will benefit the most during the 3 weeks you are in Paris is all I can say right now, but you must arm yourself well before you go, in order to get caught in the wave. Have fun.
Mathieu is offline  
Sep 8th, 2008, 02:17 PM
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grandmere, I just added the CLE website to my "French Schools" bookmarks. My wife and I are thinking we'd like to add a two or three weeks of language studies to one of our trips to France.


AnselmAdorne is offline  
Sep 8th, 2008, 03:13 PM
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AA, I think you'd love two or three weeks at a language school in France. It's important, IMO, to choose a school that doesn't have a lot of distractions(eg,one in Paris) around since a good program will require quite a bit of homework every day. (From Tours I visited the chateaux on the middle weekend of my two week stay.) I heartily recommend CLE! There was a great article in the NYT several years ago about CLE, but that was even before I went so I don't imagine it is Google-able at this point.
grandmere is offline  

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