Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Tips for Learning French #1 -Beginners-

It can be pretty daunting to think about learning  another language if you have been out of school for a bit.
You've probably read those articles that say that if you haven't got it by around age 7, you will never be able to talk with a perfect accent.

I know how you feel after you read something like that.
Terrific, you think.
I'll be XX (fill in the year yourself) this year, so what is the use of starting to learn French?

Well, how old are you going to be if you don't start?  Hmmm?

Chin up. You can make progress at this if you work at it.  Truly.  And it is lots of fun when you get going.
If you have had even a little French in the past, you will be surprised at how much is still in there.
I took Spanish lessons before a trip to Buenos Aires, and I was amazed at how the words kept coming out in French -- words that I did not even realize I remembered from my two years of high school French.

Even if the only French words you know are Yves St, Laurent, you can learn.
And it will be good for you.
I have read that learning a new language at any age is supposed to be helpful in preventing Altzeimer's and dementia.  It supposedly wears new grooves in parts of your brain.
So let's make our brains groovy. 

Ok, you ask, how do I start?
Some people think that the only way to learn is to go to a month-long immersion class in France and soak it all in.
That would certainly be one way.
But that job thing or that family thing -- not to mention that money thing -- may make a long immersion in France impossible.

If you are someone for whom the word "summer" is a verb -- as in "I love to 'summer' at the Vineyard" -- I suggest that you try this immersion method.

If not, check and see if there is an Alliance France group near you (they list their locations on their internet site). They offer classes, and I understand they are very good.  Alas, I have none near me.

See if a community college near you offers classes or if a French high school teacher in your town would give you some lessons.  I really think it is a good idea to start with someone face-to-face who can get you on the right path with pronunciation and grammar.   

If that is not possible, then just go at it yourself with all you've got.
There are lots of tools to learn French, and it can be a bit overwhelming to try to wade through them all.
Here are some things that I used that I  thought were helpful when I started to learn French about two and a half years ago.  I am going to start with two items today, but I will be adding more in later posts. 

You need to start building your vocabulary, but you also need to understand the grammar structure as you learn.  Here are two items to get you started.  They won't break the bank, but they will get you a good foundation if you practice every day. 

The book French: How to Speak and Write It by Joseph Lemaire has pictures with vocabulary and grammar lessons that are easy to follow.  Many of the words are written out phonetically so you can see how to pronounce them.  The book was first published in 1962, and it is still in print.  It is pretty easy to find online if you cannot find it at a store near you. 

Here is a link  French: How to Speak and Write It (English and French Edition)

I really love this next item.  It is a set of CDs called Drive and Learn French.  The CDs tell the story of Jon and his French friend Jacqueline.  Jon meets Jacqueline at the gym , falls head over heels for her, and he decides he needs to learn to speak French to impress her.     

I especially liked this program because it has lots of catchy songs that help you remember the words.  There is one song set at a restaurant that I found very handy when I visited France after working with this CD  --
"We have a reservation -- Nous avons réservé"
This program teaches you greetings, numbers, colors, weather, directions, words to use on the telephone, how to order at a restaurant -- lots of useful things. 


 As you can see there is a Listener's Guide so you can read and follow along with the action and music (though not while driving, please).  
In future posts, I will be reviewing more items that I have been using to learn French.  I will include items for beginners and also for intermediate learners.  

Please let me know how you are progressing  with this beautiful language.

Au revoir. 


Adrienne said...

Bonjour Vivianne,

I recently came across your blog via Paris Breakfasts and I love it! I have been learning French at our local junior college since last August. You mentioned you have been studying French for 2 1/2 years and I was wondering how fluent you consider yourself. It is rather laborious to learn a new language later in life (I'm 42) but I think if you are highly motivated to learn the language, it's doable. I took two years in high school and didn't learn squat because I just wanted to pass the class and move on. Too bad I wasn't motivated back then!
The Drive and Learn sounds right up my alley.

Vivianne Leclaire said...

Dear Adrienne,

Thanks so much for your comment. I just hired a French tutor (more blogs on that to come) and I asked her what level I am on.

She said I was between intermediate and advanced. I was hoping so hard that I had maybe reached intermediate, so I was thrilled. She may have been off on her assessment. I know I have much to learn.

Here is where I assess myself to be:
I can read pretty well, even though I don't know all the words -- probably about 6th-7th grade level.

I can understand (sometimes) the general idea of many sentences if they don't speak too fast.

I think I probably talk like a three-year-old. But when I travel in France the people seem to understand me, and they are so happy that I am trying. It truly does make the travel so much more fun.

Bottom Line: I am certainly much better than when I started -- and I am determined to improve even more.

Keep me posted on your progress.


sue.burke said...

Ever tried Rosetta Stone? Would love to know if it's worth the $$! Thanks for the post and recommendations!

Corine said...

Thanks for this post. I was becoming a tad discouraged because that's what my French book said too, that if you do not learn by the time you are an infant you will never sound French. At least I want to know that there is hope that the French can comprehend what I am saying. Thanks for the book rec.

Vivianne Leclaire said...


I have not tried Rosetta Stone yet. It is so much money, but many people seem to like it.

I have found that there is no one program that does everything. I try all kinds of mixtures. I suspect that I would still need to supplement Rosetta.

Thanks for posting.

Vivianne Leclaire said...

Do not get discouraged! You can definitely get good enough to be understood. I get told "Vous parlez bien Français" when I am over there, even I know I am not good at all. So many people are so appreciative if you try to speak it.

And you will be able to understand more and more while listening and reading French the more you practice.

It makes the travel so much more fun.

Anonymous said...

Those look like great resources. When I moved to France, my French was only so-so. But I found the best reason to learn... a French boyfriend!
The French say "la meilleure façon d'apprendre le francais est entre les draps."

Vivianne Leclaire said...

Ah yes, love is such a great motivator, isn't it?

ParisBreakfasts said...

I would love to learn how to sing and make restaurant reservations at the same time.
I am terrified of making reservations and will only eat at walk in restos :(
Sad really...

ParisBreakfasts said...

This is nonsense IMHO that you have to learn as an infant for forget it.
I heartily reccommend using Netflix and listening to French movies over and over.
The dialogue is how people really speak and relatively simple.
Start with The Closet available online...there are 100s to listen to!

Vivianne Leclaire (Liquid French blog) said...

You are the best,ParisBreakfasts!

Get that CD I posted about and you can sing your way through the restaurant -- ordering and all! It really is pretty cute, and I learned quite a bit from it.

I agree with the Netflix French movie suggestion wholeheartedly. I am going to be posting soon about some films I have been watching.

Thanks for posting.