Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

Archive for the month “August, 2014”

Our French Classroom


Rosetta Stone

What are you passionate about? That seems to be a popular question these days. Well, if I had to answer that, I would have to say that I have been passionate about language learning all my life… starting with English. Grammar totally clicked with me from a very early age. In 6th grade when it was time to choose an elective for my transition to 7th grade in Junior High, my teacher recommended that I take Spanish over Home Economics. Little did she know that this choice would direct the course of my life. Long story short, I spent many years studying the Spanish language, immersed both through family and friends in the Hispanic culture, and employed as a teacher in a variety of positions that required me to speak Spanish. Along the way, I studied French and Portuguese as well. But as the saying goes, if you don’t use it, you lose it. So, as we look ahead to a future life in France, it’s back to the books.

There are without a doubt many ways to study a foreign language from traditional rote memorization to complete immersion. Memorization was always my strong suit. I am great with lists of vocabulary and grammar rules so borrowing the French teacher’s textbook is a good tool for me. However, I am well aware that while this method yielded endless good grades back in the day when I first began to study Spanish, it does not produce a fluent speaker. With less time and more wisdom, I am inclined to take a slightly different approach in order to achieve my goal of being able to speak at least some passable French on our next trip. As an introvert this is a challenge. My husband is more of an extrovert and happy to let the French he is relearning roll off his tongue in what sounds like a most authentic way. He jumps right in and isn’t afraid to make the effort to speak, but grammar is not his forte. In the end, we make a great team because we can build on each others’ strengths.

Over these past few months, we have combined our previous knowledge and experience with language learning to put together the most useful and productive resources possible that incorporate a variety of techniques. We know it’s really important to include reading, writing, speaking and listening exercises in our study. Technology has greatly enhanced this process. So here’s what our French classroom looks like… For immersion, we invested in Rosetta Stone, a sequenced language learning software program centered on learning patterns rather than memorization. The Duolingo app makes the perfect mobile classroom interface and we love to use it when we are out and about relaxing at our favorite coffee house. The website FluentU provides a wide range of video-based lessons. We’ve even returned to an old resource, French in Action, an outstanding television series produced in the 80’s which is now available free online. For more traditional study and reference, the French 1 textbook, Bien Dit!, comes in handy. Online or as an app, Quizlet flashcards and study games serve as additional practice and reinforcement. Along the way, we take notes in the Evernote and Penultimate apps. Finally, we access LanguageGuide.Org when we need further explanation of certain concepts. Most importantly, we try to use the skills we are learning by messaging or speaking to each other in French at least a little bit every day.

Parlez vous Français?

“Do you speak English?” or slightly better, “Parlez vous anglais?,” you might be inclined to ask as soon as you step foot on French soil and you will find that many French people do speak English — more than ever before. However,Parle Francais consider the impression you want to make. Americans are notorious for expecting everyone around the world to speak English… one of the many characteristics of “Ugly American” behavior. Maybe you’re on vacation and you aren’t going to be there long so you figure you’ll survive by depending on those French citizens who speak English. And perhaps your attitude is that they should be lucky you chose to spend your hard-earned vacation dollars in their country. These days even the French need tourists to boost their economy.

The French, especially in Paris, have a reputation for being rude. I have never found that to be true when I made at least a small effort to speak French. Consider how you feel when you’re trying to do business at home and you encounter someone who doesn’t speak English or doesn’t speak it very well. It might even be someone who has lived here for a very long time. First off, given that most Americans are not motivated to learn a second language nor does the education system mandate it, it’s very unlikely you will be able to communicate with this person in his native tongue. Secondly, you probably think to yourself — he’s here, he should speak English! Well, guess what? That’s what people think about Americans when they travel around the world — you’re here, you should speak our language!

Like I said, the smallest effort can make a big difference. In France, a simple “Bonjour” upon entering a business establishment and “Merci. Au revoir.” upon leaving will go a long way in opening the lines of communication and contributing to a positive experience for both parties. Most people are familiar with these phrases already. You can easily pick up a few more using a French phrase book or one of many free apps like 24/7 French Tutor, Mindsnacks French, or SpeakEasy French where you can listen to and practice pronunciation.

If you’re thinking about actually moving to another country, then learning the native language as best you can is a must. In France, many, many people speak at least some basic English nowadays. On our 2012 Tour, we found this to be true throughout the country from large cities to small villages. In addition, there are many English-speaking expats, particularly British, with whom you can communicate. But what’s the point of moving to a new country if you remain within that comfortable circle? You might as well stay home. The whole idea is to have a different experience. Granted, it’s not going to be an easy or fast process to learn a new language. It will take a lot of dedication, effort, and time, but, in the end, it will be worthwhile. Wouldn’t it be fun to at least exchange a few pleasantries with your new French neighbors and conduct your shopping at the marché, boulangerie, pâtisserie, and charcuterie in French? You will end up feeling very isolated if you never try to get out of your comfort zone and assimilate on some level. Learning the language of your newly adopted country is just the beginning. It will naturally lead to learning about the culture which will help you understand the people, and, eventually, you will start to feel at home.

This is the approach we are taking and we’re very excited about it. More about our resources and our methods for learning French in the next post. Until then… Au revoir et merci beaucoup pour lire notre blog.

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