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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Taking French to the Next Level

Well, it's been rather hard to concentrate on anything this week. The earthquake in Japan has us literally glued to the television, watching each day of the catastrophe unfold.  It's amazing to be able to find eyewitness accounts, on-the-spot coverage, and streaming video of the day's events.  It seems we often speak of the ills of "technology", but I feel very fortunate to be able to "connect" with others this week. And just very fortunate for everything we have, and all those around us.

One of the several bright spots this week is that the sun is back.  After a solid week of rain, which called clearly to mind all of Peter Mayle's writings about the awful Mistral wind, yesterday was the first day we were able to remove our hefty armchair from in front of our terrace doors. Even securely fastened, a large burst of the Mistral sends them flying open.  Trust me, this wind really blows.

What's this all got to do with the French language? Well, I've been inside a lot....with nothing but a few pints of Haagen-Dazs & my French homework to keep me company.  And let's be honest, I polished off two cartons of Pralines & Cream before I even glanced at a book.

The problem? Well, it's been written of, and seems to be true of all languages, but when you reach a plateau during language learning, it's hard to get motivated to move to the next level.  Instead of leaps & bounds improvement, changes are incremental, or sometimes even imperceptible.

I'm there now, stuck on intermediate highway.  I'd like to move into the advanced lane, but seem to be stalled by roadblocks like conjunctions of coordination, expressions of concession, & really anything having to do with the past conditional.  Zikes!

Here's a few things I've committed to doing in order to get back on the grammar party-bus:

1. Read a short, entertaining, book in French
I added "entertaining" because it's got to be a book you can stick with - not necessary know every word, but be able to press though.  Some good candidates are anything from Le Petit Nicolas series & the well-known Le Petit Prince.

2.  Take advantage of online, interactive resources
I mentioned several French podcast & learning web sites in a prior post, and there are many online resources worth taking a look at, including: BBC Languages: French, Coffee Break French Learn French by Podcast, and French Pod Class
Another site I've recently discovered is Teach & Learn French from TV Monde 5. All excellent ways to spice up your grammar lessons.

3. Actually do those pronunciation exercises in the mirror
You know the ones I'm talking about - pursed lips & big smiley face to pronounce des and then a rounded "O-shaped" mouth to pronounce de.
If you haven't studied French, then this is about the point where you think I'm crazy - But, in my defense, it's a bit of a crazy language. But we love it nonetheless...right?

4.  Engage, engage, engage
I have loads of opportunities to speak French, but I admit that sometimes I get a little lazy (...gasp). Or sometimes I just wimp out - easier to stay quiet than make a dreaded...ERROR (le gasp!). But I'm not doing anyone any favors, least of all myself. Better to put it out there, take advantage of every opportunity to speak the language, & let les chips fall where they may. Preferably close to the buffet table.

Those are a few of the things I'm doing to take my French to the next level.

What are some of the ways you've developed to help push yourself forward in a language?
Suggestions, comments, & more pints of Haagen-Daz are always welcome.


  1. I'm so impressed by your sticktoitiveness, Tuula. :-) I love Peter Mayle's books. He's definitely responsible for much of my love of France. :-) I love your ideas for pushing on to the next level. I will have to give them a go when I start my language study this coming year. :-)

  2. Great post Tuula!
    I agree about reading an entertaining book in French. The other thing is watching tv/listening to the radio in French. (We don't get a lot of channels so I have no choice in this regard.)
    Also, you can practice on your spouse/partner. It all helps!

  3. Have you come across One Thing in a French Day? You need a basic grasp, but it will help to move to the next level as you can read her short text, and listen to it and it's free! We love Coffee Break French too.

  4. These are some great tips and resources! I've been feeling lazy about my french studies lately too and I have a book half finished which makes me feel worse about it! How could I just stop reading it, mid-story?

    Trying to get motivated... perhaps some haagen daaz would help me too?

  5. I was thinking about this while sitting in my French class today. I'm so glad I stopped by your blog--your post reminded me that I need to do more outside of the classroom to get myself to the next level. Thanks for the motivation!

  6. Lovely boxes, where you found these? Yes Mistral is blowing way too much now, yesterday we were out for St.Patrick's day and I felt like I will fly away with the wind.

    While learning french, at some point you just need to cross the line and start speaking, even the small phrases and with errors, it's worth of it. When you get started, you can't stop it ;)

  7. Thanks Krista, I can imagine you're an excellent language-learner, you've got all the skills & determination :)

    Good tips Tanya, bet we're at almost the same place in our learning - I agree, just best to get out there and "do it".

    Jacqui, thanks for the site link, looks like a great resource. I know we all need as much help as we can get, merci.

    Stephanie & Linds, looks like this issue is timely with all of us! Really hard to keep it going once you get past a certain level - thankfully we're all sharing the same experience.

    Sini, thanks for the comment. I'm looking forward to reading more about your life in Avignon.
    Agree, those boxes are so pretty. A reader just left a FB comment that you can also find them at shops along the highway. Who knew?
    The ones in the photo are from a really cute boutique in Nice.

  8. I make lists too. It's so satisfying checking those items off. Getting motivated to "create" the list is often the hardest part for me, you've got that done and it's a great plan! You'll be back on track in no time. :)

  9. Hi Tuula! I certainly understand the difficulties in trying to stay on task amid all the news reports-- I've been glued to my tele and my productivity has slowed to a crawl! Btw, I love the photos in this piece. We've all owned books like these, but you made them look different somehow. :) Very nice post!

  10. Hi Tuula, I think I had sort of given up on getting better at French and your post made me want to crack the textbook and get at it again. Argh, conjugation!!!

  11. I heart conjugation - seriously. Always loved grammar too. Well done on persisting, but Haagen-Daz? I would have expected more of a sorbet aux fruits rouges ;)

  12. Ahh - yes - the plateau (stuck there in Italian), the conjugation fests, the booze required to make it through... Oh, hey, the sore mouth muscles that come with lingual acrobatics not required of spoken American-type English which can be - and often is - spoken with marbles in said hole in head). My favorite exercise when I'm stuck is to just write - maybe all the lyrics to a favorite song, skipping lines, and highlight the 'problem areas.' Each time you do it you find less "highlighted" areas! Bon studying!