A few years ago, I had resolved to study French to the point where I may comprehend a popular movie or a novel. I have forgotten why I pursued French over all the other languages in the world (it might have had something to do with a girl). Whatever the original reason, as of recently, French has become a regular hobby for me and I already feel rewarded. In this article, I will explain the stages I had undergone so far and my current sense of learning French.
Since the faculty for language is biologically “native” to humans (see Universal Grammar), I felt that I had only to provide my brain with the grammatical paradigms and vocabulary for it to automatically put together syntactical French sentences. This would certainly be possible if my faculty for language had also evolved an interface through which to download all the grammatical rules as nice logical English sentences and thenceforth apply them whenever I chose to speak in French. However, if the intention of communication is to transfer semantics between people, then this method is hopeless for several reasons.
- Interface. I don’t yet know a “quick” way to train my brain to pick up grammatical rules and to apply them naturally. The only method that has worked so far has required a lot of time and a lot of un-coerced “pattern-grokking” by my mind.
- Inefficiency. Memory seems to evaporates with disuse. I have forgotten most of my vocabulary from this stage of my French learning. It becomes extremely difficult to consciously remember all the grammatical rules every time.
- Grammarians. Are. Often. Dumb. There is a fundamental difference between grammarians and linguists… the latter describe language… the former coerce a subjectively chosen set of ancient rules which don’t always conform to popular usage.
- Common usage. Even perfectly natural and inclusive grammars will contain more unusual sentences than the commonly familiar ones. It would be nice to construct far-fetched sentences, but contrived semantics would be obscured by the unfamiliar usage.
When the methods of the Naive Stage failed, a new system of French language learning had to be devised. Formal and Informal Speech and Writing had to be mastered by constant exposure and usage. Eh. Obvious enough. To this end, I am just exposing myself to as many French audio programs as possible to become accustomed to “naturally” speak French impromptu. I suppose no one audio program will provide a complete variety of sentence construction. Thus, I am exposing myself to multiple programs in order to gain enough practice with all the types of sentences (especially the most common kinds, which I am proportionately more exposed to). Memorization of grammatical rules and vocabulary are still important, but not the primary concern. The following resources are coming in handy at this stage.
Michel Thomas Method French For Beginners by Michel Thomas et al. This is an audio series featuring the host Michel Thomas with two students, one male and one female. It is very easy to follow despite Thomas’s severe accent and the blunders of the female student (we learn from her mistakes). Covers very basic pesent-tense and future-tense scenarios. I finished the “Beginners” series, and will be starting on “Advanced” soon.
Pimsleur French I, II, III. This is a very long audio series compared to Michel Thomas’s. However, it provides plenty more practice for sentence formation in multiple varieties. For now, I consider this my staple for French speech practice.
I haven’t yet experienced Alan Moys’s program or the Barron’s program, but I suppose I will look into those soon.
Schaum’s Outline of French Grammar by Mary Coffman. This text seems very thorough and really makes sense of some of the unexplained patterns from the audio series. I often consult this as a guide. I should some day just read through the entire thing to make sure that I am familiar with all the major topics.
Harry Potter a L’ecole Des Sorciers by J. K. Rowling. My favorite children’s fantasy novel in French! Good practice, but it is quite difficult to work through despite knowing the storyline beforehand.