Friday, March 12, 2010

Watch, Listen, Read, Speak
My four-pronged approach to studying French

It can be challenging to process all the possible methods for language study, especially if you're not in a formal classroom setting. At times I've felt overwhelmed by the pile of books that I know are in French, but which all look Greek to me.

There are as a number of schools of thought, with “immersion” being among the most popular currently, at least in Spokane where I live.

The problem I’ve faced is trying to recreate immersion when there are no native speakers or teachers around (the other 165 hours per week outside of lessons and conversation groups).

Over the last few months I’ve included tried to simplify, including several basic practices into my home studies that have helped me pick up everyday vocabulary and improve my oral comprehension:
  • Watch
  • Listen
  • Read 
  • Speak
    combining reading with watching and listening as much as possible.

    This is not reinventing the wheel, but it’s very effective and more entertaining than studying only textbooks or trying to use rote memory for vocabulary, so I highly recommend it.

    I can put on a movie, but it’s usually too difficult to watch en français and understand enough of the words. On the other hand, watching it with English subtitles takes the brain out of the French. So, with the help of a friend, I’ve found some movies in French that also have French subtitles. Watching  movies with French speech while viewing subtitles in French lets me better simulate immersion and connect the spoken words with the written words.

    Also, I love to listen to music, but without some concentration, it’s just in the background, like wallpaper. After listening to a song for months, I might not know yet what it's about, though I recognize the tune and perhaps the dernier mots de les phrases. So now, I print out the lyrics to the songs, and use them to sing along, or just read them to myself while I listen. (Oh, who am I kidding? I sing loud and proud). I often use the written words as a translation exercise too, so I figure out what I’m listening to and reinforce it with my, um, singing. Also, though I can’t read while driving, I play only French music in my car and try to get my head in the French—it’s a petite immersion.

    Also, I love to read, and I can read books in French, but it’s a start-and-stop, long process to look up enough words to get the proper sense of what’s happening. When mes yeux sont bien fatiguées, I turn to poetry that I bought from Amazon, which is read aloud by a native French speaker, again, using the printed words to help, but poetry is much easier to understand because it’s read more slowly, with purpose.

    A final and very key practice, I think, is to speak as much as possible. Important connections are made when my brain has to get a word that lives in my head out through my mouth. It reinforces what one has studied, it expands the working vocabulary, and builds confidence when I discover that if I make a mistake it's no big deal and someone will help me find the right word. For this, there's no substitution for a friendly conversation group that lets people form themselves into small groups so everyone can practice those skills as much as possible. A bonus is that the music, movies, and poetry used for personal studies make perfect conversation fodder, too.

    So, there are a few things that I find helpful. Please feel free to post in the comment section any additional tips you’d like to share with others.

    Amuse-toi bien!

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