lundi 13 février 2012

Learning French: Starting over again (Part 1)

I had always wanted to travel to Paris, even as a young girl. When the opportunity was finally on the horizon it was time to start thinking about French lessons. I had studied French at high school twenty years earlier but in spite of receiving an undeserved high mark in my final exam I was never able to hold even a basic conversation. Real life is nothing like the scripted textbooks of yesteryear with Philippe and Claire talking on the telephone.

It was an easy decision as to where to study. My local Alliance Française. As a schoolgirl I had enjoyed their functions and they had fed my romantic notions of France. Additionally they met my requirements of native French-speaking teachers and the focus not only on the language but also on the culture. The social events that the Alliance offered was another significant factor in my choice. The combination of the 20 year hiatus and my dread of sitting an assessment test to determine my level led me to enrol in the class for complete beginners. I felt slightly smug on the first night when I remembered how to introduce myself. Naively I felt confident that I had allowed sufficient lead in time for my trip to be able to master basic conversations. I was sure that 30 two hour lessons would have me deciphering menus and responding to questions before our August departure. Progress was slow... very slow. As slow as the snails that I pictured myself eating in some small Parisian bistro. It was not a problem with the teaching. People half my age had no problems and would whizz ahead with responses whilst I was still thinking through what the question meant.

Eventually off to France I headed ... disappointed I returned, at least in regards to my linguistic abilities. Nobody would speak to me in French! As soon as I uttered a few words in French, the waiter or receptionist would launch into perfect English. It was as if my feeble attempts were causing them physical pain. I was however absolutely enchanted with Paris so I was determined to work on my French and return  parler-ing en français.

In  Learning French: Starting over again (Part 2), I look at some of the thing that I have tried to improve my French skills. 

4 commentaires:

  1. I'm just curious as to why you require native speakers as teachers?

  2. It was a personal preference that arose from earlier experience with non-native speakers who had very poor pronunciation and felt obliged to teach straight from a text book with no additional input or flexibility. I have no scientifically valid reason for chosing one over another. Being a native speaker of course does not ensure that they are necessarily a good teacher. They too may choose to rigidly adhere to the text book with no options to further explore the language and where it takes us. I have also had some bad experiences with native speakers who have had poor teaching abilities. The teachers whom I have found the best for me are those that have used a variety of teaching methods, been encouraging and supportive but still challenging. They have fostered a desire to learn. I am not sure if it is coincidental but often these teachers had studied linguistics. They knew English and understood the reasons I would jump to a false cognate or an incorrect sentence structure.

  3. I would be inclined to agree with FemmeFrancophile. I think that language learning is the one area in which a native speaker is essential because even after many years of speaking another language and even living in the country where that language is spoken, it still remains a learned language and it is a pity to then teach other people your accent and errors.
    On another subject, I have friends who would like to spend 6 months in France in 2013 to learn the language and are looking for the best way to go about it. I imagine that the most difficult thing will be to find native French speakers to conversely with on a regular basis. I guess we'll be hearing your suggestions in Part 2.

    1. In future of instalments of 'Learning French' I will be looking at making the most of an immersion experience and this will include some ideas about finding native French speakers. I am not sure though if it will be in Part 2. The learning of French is something that has occupied a large part of my life over the last 12 years. I am very passionate about it so I have a lot of information to sort through.


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