Friday, 27 June 2014

Learning French - Not as Easy As You Might Think

Having moved to France a few years ago, you can imagine I have tried quite a few different way to try and learn French, these include the BBC languages course BBC French, Rocket French and the Rosetta Stone French DVD to name but a few. But I have to say of all the different ways of learning French that I have tried, the Michelle Thomas French DVD's have been the best from a beginners perspective.

The main reason is that you can listen to the Michelle Thomas French DVD's without having to refer to a separate booklet or manual. You basically just switch it on and listen. I would even say that just having it on in the background while you are still working on other things will help you at a sub-conscious level.

This is perfect for anyone who is busy and needs to get on with the daily job whilst trying to learn French at the same time. For example cutting the grass can take nearly 2 hours even using a sit on mower, so what a perfect time to make a slightly monotonous activity a time for learning.

I transferred the files from my CD sets to my IPod specifically for this purpose, only because using the IPod is a lot less intrusive than a CD player. Same applies cleaning the pool a bit of a boring job suddenly turns into my daily French lessons. Well as long as I remember to do it.

Now that said if you want to be a fluid French speaker you are probably not going to achieve it just listening to Michelle Thomas, he is great for a beginner because his method of teaching is very easy on the brain and introduces you very well to the way the French structure their sentences. Which is usually in a completely different order to the way English speakers do.

Where I am going with this is that if you want to learn French to any level of competence you are probably going to have to mix it up a bit. A great starting place is with the Michelle Thomas CD's as is some easy going revision when you are not feeling up to other more intensive courses, you will also find that you can get Michelle Thomas advanced French courses and yes he does go into things in more detail and to a more comprehensive level, but ultimately you will need to find additional and different ways to learn and continue your French education. Probably the most effective would be integrating and speaking with native French speakers.

This is the link for a copy of his foundation course available in the UK -Michel Thomas Foundation Course: French (Michel Thomas Series) This link will get you to his Advanced French Course in the UK - Michel Thomas Advanced Course: French (Michel Thomas Series) Although I would still consider this a beginner to intermediate conversational French course personally.

There is no doubt in my mind that starting your French language learning adventure should be with Michelle Thomas, you will get a great grounding and introduction to the French language this way and investing in both the introductory and advanced level courses will be worth every penny. This video gives you a flavor of how the courses work and Michelle’s unique approach to teaching French.

Learning French with Rosetta Stone

The whole principle behind the Rosetta Stone approach to learning a language is to teach French the way a child would learn French, primarily through observation and associating words with those observations.

There is no translation involved with the Rosetta Stone method, you simply see images and associate those images with the correct and most accurate description of what you are seeing given in an audible format (in French obviously).

There are various other options available with the Rosetta Stone course, you can for example listen to the French and see it written down at the same time, to help you make the right choice.

When you think this through however, where you really need to be with the French, for conversational purposes anyway, is at a place where you can hear and understand the words and what is being said in the French language in a way where you are not trying to translate to your native tongue. It is the translation where you will fall foul in a conversation, when you are translating you can easily stumble, miss the end of a sentence and lose the thread of the conversation.

Simply put you will struggle to keep pace with a conversation if you are trying to translate it as you hear it, you need to think and understand in French to be able to hold a conversation. That may sound a little daunting, but the principle behind Rosetta Stone is exactly that, you are not required to translate you are required to understand the French without translation.

So the sooner you move to level where you just listen to the words and not rely on a combination of words and written text to get the answer the better off you will be, remembering of course no one will be offering you a written dialogue of what they are saying during a conversation.

Other options from the Rosetta Stone DVD course are to repeat the French you hear and have your version compared against the original to allow you to check your pronunciation. Alternatively you can type in the French and see how accurate your written French is, so all in all a fairly comprehensive suite of training modules.

So what of the downside, well if I am honest the course is a bit repetitive and as a result a bit boring to boot. Also if you do make a mistake the software feeds the same question back to you several times to make sure that you have understood it. This sort of adds to the repetitive nature of the program, but I guess it can be argued that if you are making mistakes then you need to be further tested on that specific area. You can’t really argue with the principles of this learning method and you can move from basic to advanced levels of learning where comprehension is much more tricky and you really do have to concentrate.

I don’t think this course will suit everyone but if you think you can handle the repetition it might be just what you need to learn French as natives do. It’s also worth knowing that Rosetta Stone V4 TOTALe French offers new features including interactive software, live online sessions with native tutors, and online games. 

You can use this link to purchase a copy in the UK –Rosetta Stone Version 3: French Level 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 with Audio Companion (Mac/PC)

BBC Languages and BBC French

The BBC French language course is another great tool in your quest to learn French. What the BBC languages courses do are to take every day situations and events and recreate them in a role playing format.

Basically each module addresses situations you may encounter in everyday life. So scenarios such as meeting someone for the first time, going to a swimming pool or the shops are simulated and a typical conversation you may encounter is replicated and used as a learning exercise.

 This technique is taken even further with the very good program called 15 minute French. Just about every scenario you could imagine in every day life is covered and this really is a useful way of taking on board expressions that you may not have considered you would need. 15 minute French covers topics such as work and study, health and the doctor, the home, leisure time (les loisirs) and much more.

Both programs require you to refer to an exercise book, but it is difficult to envisage any other way of doing this effectively. what this means is that you do have to put time aside purely for study and you can’t really combine it with other activities as you can Michelle Thomas.

But on the plus side you will explore a broader scope of conversations and expand your vocabulary more. Michelle Thomas for me is excellent at defining structure but is a little limited on content, that is why you really need to mix things up a bit. The BBC being a very nice British institution also offer a free online resource at BBC/Languages

Makes you proud to be British and of course a very bad salesman, but there you go, can’t win them all. If you want your own course and you live in the UK there is The BBC Talk French Series which you can choose from for the level you need available on this link and that will earn me a little bit of money, not a lot but every little helps.

Likewise for the 15-minute French ( 2 CDs + BOOK ): Learn French in Just 15 Minutes a Day series, which I would buy ahead of the BBC option if you need to choose one or the other.

Mainly because it covers more scenarios and remembering this is the UK version where the poor people live, have you seen all those cutbacks, shocking!

From Michelle Thomas French to Rosetta Stone French

MichelleThomas will get you started in understanding how the French structure their sentences and beginning to have conversations in French. The BBC French and 15 minute French will help expand your vocabulary and deal with common scenarios a little more easily and then you have Rosetta Stone French. Rosetta Stone is your opportunity to learn French like a native and makes you actually listen to and hear the words the way you would in conversation, a great way to practice and stop your ears panicking when you have to do it for real.

None of these methods are easy and some people will have a natural aptitude where others may not, but ultimately the only way to become a fluent French speaker is to walk the walk and then you will be able to talk the talk.

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