The only D I got for a grade in high school came from my French teacher. Oh, I deserved it, no question. I spent more time paying attention to the blonde next to me (hi Beth-Alison!) than the teacher in front of me, and if Beth-Alison wanted to skip class for any reason, well, allons-y !
Tried again in college but that effort failed almost as badly but for less reason: no pretty blonde distracting me from my studies. I had great hopes. I still have my copy of Nausea en français but I’ve never been able to read it.
For my master’s in English, I needed to have a foreign language component, so once more unto the breach! In this case, I just needed to be able to read it and I mastered enough of it that I could pass the test. Never felt like there was a command of the language and, after getting my degree, I didn’t have a reason to keep up with it, so my study of foreign language languished.
Then, a couple years ago, my sweetie and I decided to try again. I advocated for learning French (because, dammit) and she was willing. We bought Rosetta Stone and had a go. I don’t have a great ear or, more to the point, I was told at an impressionable age that I don’t have a good ear, for either music or language. I’ve been told by others that my accent doesn’t suck, but guess which voices I listen to? In any case, we had a go for a bit, and then Life interfered and it fell by the wayside. Again.
Now I’m researching my next novel. Based on what I’ve come up with so far, several elements of it will take place in areas that are now part of France. Also, there’s a chance for a trip to France — both for research and for pleasure — in the coming year and so I’m back at it.
This time around, I’ve amassed quite the tool kit. I like the Rosetta Stone approach for learning nouns and certain constructions, but I have a feeling of floundering when it comes to trying to pinpoint exactly what is it about that sentence, what does that mean, why is it done that way? Immersion works, I’ve no doubt, but it also needs context and additional information to fill in the gaps. So, I’m doing more.
Also, one of the reasons that it floundered before was that I would pick it up and put it down again. I have enough trouble that I need to not build in gaps into the process. I’ve “touched” at least one of the following tools everyday since the trip to France became a possibility. There are more tools to use (see below) and I’ll get to them, too, because I’m more aware of what isn’t making sense and how I might reinforce an idea or add to it.
Below are the tools I’m using or plan to use in my quest to actually, finally, learn a foreign language:
  • Rosetta Stone is the main language tool. It’s an immersion approach, so no explanations about what or why en anglais. It is stupidly expensive and then they charge you again for access to their online content.
    • Games – I use the games, quite a bit. Good way to keep involved in the language without feeling like everything is a test.
    • Studio – I really should use this more often. I’m paying for it, after all. But talk about feeling like things are a test! It’s an opportunity to go over what you’ve learned with a native speaker and other students. But, again, all en français and so, if one feels a bit floundery, it doesn’t help with that.
    • Chat – IM with other students. Seems like a good idea. Someday I may even try it. With so much of this, I seem to feel I have to be “here” before I utilize some of these tools. I’m not there yet.
    • iPad/iPhone apps. They have at least three of them. One is the coursework on the phone. Another provides more of a vocab quiz, and the third — free and separate from the rest of it — is a Travel French lesson app. I have all three of them, but haven’t used them much just yet.
  • Coffee Break French podcast. Gives me a chance to learn similar things to what Rosetta Stone is teaching me (so far, lots of good overlap).  But it is not an immersive approach, which means there is an English explanation of what is being taught and why it is that way. I like knowing the why of things. While Rosetta Stone is so much visual and written, this is entirely aural for me since I haven’t signed up for their complete series. I’ll listen to it in the car during my commute on those days I don’t plan on taking the time for a Rosetta Stone lesson.
  • Evernote. There are a lot of ways that Evernote can be used for language study and I’m exploring which ones work best for me. Right now I’m using it as a way for me to keep track of new things I’ve learned.
    • I hear something in Rosetta Stone or Coffee Break French or another source. I add it to my Noun or Adjective or other appropriate page. I also have a note for the various questions that can be asked because that seems like a good way in to synthesizing the language.
    • Skitch to capture screen shots of concepts that I’m having issues with and paste them to the appropriate note.
    • Copy links to pages or articles on French or on learning French
    • Have shared a language notebook with my sweetie. We can share insights into what we’re learning and practice our writing skills by “passing notes” about our study.
  • Websites. In many ways, beats paper, but it means when I sit down to study, I have three programs and a handful of websites open at the same time.
    • for French English dictionary
    • Great way to look up French verbs and get the conjugation. They do have an app and installed version, but those cost money. The app may prove worthwhile, not sure about the Windows version.
    • I get what Rosetta Stone is trying to do with the whole “immersion” thing, but sometimes I need to get a sense of certainty that I’ve figured out what they are trying to say/ask me. This becomes even more important as I move towards different tenses of verbs. Not that Google is 100% but a second opinion is useful.
  • RFI Also an app, also audio files. Mostly, so far, I’m using the L’affaire du coffret serial podcast. But they also have a whole bunch of other things, including another serial, the news in simplified French, and other written and listening sources. I have plans on getting to all of these.
  • StudyBlue App and website. I went to this because it can link to Evernote, but so far I haven’t seen a good use for that. Since I was using tables for my word lists, StudyBlue wasn’t able to take those lists and make into flashcards, which is what I really wanted. So I take the word lists from Evernote, paste into Excel and create a file, then upload that file into StudyBlue to become flashcards. I’ve found the flashcards to be really useful even if the process of creating them is cumbersome. I know Rosetta Stone to boast that there’s “no memorization” but that’s bull. Also shit. Call it what you will, but a knowing has to happen. For me, it takes some work to know the French word for something, the French way of asking that question or how to answer that question in French. I need the exercise of something like a flashcard to help me remember the things that are so different from my experience, such as masculine and feminine nouns, ways of asking questions, etc. And it’s a great way to while away some of the more boring meetings I have to attend.
  • Books. I have the usual 501 French Verbs and a French English dictionary, some picture books, etc. But also, since one reason I’m wanting to learn the language is to be able to do research in France, I also have history and guide books. These are in English, but they are keeping me focused on the country and that has actually helped.
  • Films. this is yet to be tried, but have gotten some good ideas on how to use French language films to help learn the language. Will report back on that when the time comes.
  • French language meet up group. Haven’t gone there yet. But once I’m past the “Je m’appelle David” level of conversation, I’d like to go and hear others speak and try to speak to others.
  • Duo lingo. Started using it last time and should get into if again. I really need help with spelling. 
Of course, this is all so much different from the first time where it was Rosetta Stone, my sweetie, and some picture books that we read together. I realized after my most recent experience that I need to A) touch French everyday so that I keep it active in my mind and B) I need a range of options that will provide a range of learning approaches. So now I have written (flashcards, RFI websites, my own notes), aural (podcasts, serials, newscasts), visual (Rosetta Stone, program and games, film).
As much as I update anything on this blog, I’ll update my experience of learning French. Fifth time’s the charm?

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