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 Message 73 of 1317
01 May 2012 at 11:31pm | IP Logged 
After 3 more real lessons with my tutor, it's time to update my log.

Here's what we've done so far:

Wed: Oral presentation and conversation. My tutor gave me a paragraph about TV
violence and its effects on children. I had 30 minutes to prepare, after which I
delivered a short and mostly spontaneous oral presentation. After this, she asked me
questions and pushed me to defend my ideas. The total time was about 14 minutes.

This actually went pretty well, because I was able to draw heavily on my parenting
vocabulary. The trick, as always, is to illustrate the topic in question with examples
from more familiar topics.

Still, this was really hard, and I had no idea how to do until the presentation
started. Still, needs must, and all that. My tutor was really good at putting me at
ease and drawing out my answers.

Fri: Written argument. I wrote a 250-word letter (on behalf of fictious fellow
employees) arguing in favor of working from home. I make a fair number of "non-
systematic" errors, where I flubbed a point of conjugation that I know perfectly well.
Proofreading is hard in a second language, at least at my level. At least the DELF B2
gives only a single point for spelling!

Mon: Reading comprehension, again. A fairly literary discussion of tropical
deforestation, taken from the official sample B2 exam. Unfortunately, there's a fairly
serious error with paragraph numbers in the questions, so I lost several points and a
good chunk of my self-imposed 30-minute limit floundering. So I wrote a longish email
to my tutor in French explaining the problem with the exam, and why the provided answer
key was wrong.

We followed this up with more oral work: I explained how land trust property easements
work in the US, and suggested several strategies for fighting tropical deforestation
using organizations like Equal Exchange. She accused me of evading her questions (a
fair cop, guv), and asked me what could be done within the actual countries in
question. So I spent several minutes arguing that local environmental regulation is a
lost cause when there's a war between the government and les trafiquants de
and that on doit utilisier le pouvoir d'argent de dehors du pays. I
made my point, but ouch, that hurt.


Did I mention that this stuff is a real stretch for me? I've been speaking
French for about 20 hours per week for ~2.5 months. If I had to take the DELF B2 test
next week, I could probably score 40–60% under near-ideal circumstances, based on my
actual scores on the sample exam. And I'm really good at standardized tests, so I'm
scoring slightly above my real level.

My verdict:

- DELF B2 is hard, and it has a heavy bias towards academic tasks.
- Still, DELF B2 is probably easier than understanding 50% of the dialog in a typical
French movie.
- My tutor is very, very good.

I'm actually enjoying this process, but ouch. It's hard stuff.


I've also worked through the first 7 lessons of Assimil Business French in the
car. This is an interesting course: It has short, conversational dialogues between two
actors, followed by a clearly delivered question & answer session. It's the difference
between a (relatively clear) real-life conversation and a radio documentary.

I get about 50% the first time through, and I can push it up to 80+% after 5 or 6
additional listens. I've got the book upstairs, and I need to find it and look up some
of the harder dialog. I really like the combination of conversational and formal audio.

My abilities continue to oscillate from day to day. And I'm continually struck by two
things: (1) I'm actually pretty good at French, and (2) I'm really not that good at
all. It's all a matter of what standard I judge by!

(And as always, French is welcome in this log.)

Edited by emk on 01 May 2012 at 11:34pm

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 Message 74 of 1317
01 May 2012 at 11:38pm | IP Logged 
Sounds like yet another point for my theory that the DELF is tougher than the Goethe Institut's tests.
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 Message 75 of 1317
02 May 2012 at 5:46pm | IP Logged 
I just finished another DELF B2 oral presentation. This time, I ended up sacrificing
fluidity of speech and accent in favor of a much more complicated argument.

At this point, I can hold a social conversation with a French speaker. My accent and
intonation are adequate, and I can maintain the flow of conversation without lots of
awkward pauses and stuttering. If I'm warmed up but not exhausted, it's not even that
difficult any more.

DELF B2 presentations are much harder, though, because (1) I need to speak at much
greater length, which means that I can't rehearse what I'm going to say or change the
subject, and (2) I'm trying to speak on a semi-intellectual topic. So I'm under much
greater linguistic stress, and that has all kinds of negative effects on other stuff.

I've tried several different strategies, with varying degrees of success. Today I spent
my 30 minutes of prep time making an outline. Here was the topic:

« La crise d’adolescence n’a rien d’une fatalité » Par Michel Fize,
sociologue au CNRS (Centre national de recherche scientifique)

À qui revient cette idée folle d’inventer, un jour... la « crise »
d’adolescence ? Jean-Jacques Rousseau lui-même, le philosophe pédagogue !
Il n’y aurait, selon lui, qu’adolescents révoltés ou déprimés... Pourtant,
tout ceci n’est qu’une fable ! La crise d’adolescence (de la puberté, en
réalité) n’a rien d’une fatalité, ne répond à aucun déterminisme
biologique. Et l’opposition aux parents - aux enseignants quelquefois -
n’est pas une nécessité, même si les « spécialistes » estiment que non
seulement la crise existe, mais encore qu’il vaut mieux la faire tôt que
tard. Nous savons maintenant que l’erreur d’analyse tient au fait que la
plupart des psychologues, psychiatres, psychanalystes et médecins parlent
de l’adolescence sur la base d’observation de jeunes en difficulté
psychologique ou sociale, essayant de comprendre et de dessiner le « normal
» à partir du « pathologique ».

This is a fairly horrible prompt, because Michel Fize makes a bare assertion without
evidence, and nobody in my family is a teenager, so I've never really talked about
these subjects.

And here's the outline I slapped together in half an hour, minus some personal examples
taken from my boring and non-rebellious adolescence. Please excuse the atrocious
spelling; these are personal notes under time pressure:


- La crise d'adolescence : Existe-t-il ou pas ?
- Qui pense oui
    - Les spécialistes : « La plupart des psychologues, psychiatres,
      psychanalystes et médecins »
    - Mais aussi les parents : Je vais les discuter plus tard.
- Qui pense non
    - Michel Fize, sociologue au CNRS
    - Porquoi ?
      - Ils pense que les specialistes parlent sur la base d'observation
        de jeunes en difficulté.
      - Une faute statistique, en effect
- Le preuve des parents et de la vie quotidienne
    - Les adolescentes qui utilisent les drogues et l'achool
      - Si ivre que il ne s'est pas tenu debout.
    - Les adolescentes qui joindent les gangs ou qui avoir les amis que
        les parent n'aiment pas
      - Il veulent appertenir à une groupe.
      - Il peuvent étabilier une identité pour leurs-même, parmi les
        sembables, et passer moins du temps aves ses parents.
      - Il peuvent faire les choses vraiment stupides.
    - Les adolescentes qui fumer
      - Il veut « faire comme les adultes ».
      - Il pense que c'est impossible de mourir.
- Le preuve de ma vie
    - [...]
- On peut dire que la crise est inventée, mais on ne peut pas utiliser
    l'évidence de la France ou des États Unis — on dois utiliser l'évidence
    des anthropologues et des cultures étrangère. Mais ça, c'est
    difficile. Margaret Mead, kinship tricks, professional gullibility of

I'm required to introduce the discussion, state a position, defend it with examples,
and transition gracefully between the sections. My basic strategy is, of course, the
traditional trick of intermediate students who are getting massacred in a foreign
language: Change the topic without getting caught.

I can speak about all the typical B1 subjects: My daily life, my professional
activities, my personal interests, and so on, with a level of fluency that's arguably
acceptable for DELF B2, at least on a good day. So the first trick is to establish a
plausible and defensible connection between the topic at hand, and something I can
actually discuss.

The second trick is simplify my language ruthlessly. To do this, I borrow an idea from

It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds
in words of one syllable. If you say "The social utility of the indeterminate sentence
is recognized by all criminologists as a part of our sociological evolution towards a
more humane and scientific view of punishment," you can go on talking like that for
hours with hardly a movement of the gray matter inside your skull. But if you begin "I
wish Jones to go to gaol and Brown to say when Jones shall come out," you will
discover, with a thrill of horror, that you are obliged to think.

Basically, I'm forced to go with choice (2), because I don't have the vocab for choice
(1). For another great example of what I mean, check out C.S. Lewis's fictitious
translation from formal English to "Old Solar:"

To you I may seem a vulgar robber

Among us, Oyarsa, there is a kind of hnau who will take other hnau's food and - and
things, when they are not looking. He says he is not an ordinary one of that kind.

but I bear on my shoulders the destiny of the human race.

He says what he does now will make very different things happen to those of our
people who are not yet born.


So that's me: Trying to dodge the subject unobtrusively, and expressing abstract
opinions in very simple language, with lots of circumlocutions. This can be fairly
frustrating and depressing, but on the other hand, hey, I actually just spent 20
minutes explaining, among other things, why anthropological evidence must be treated
with care when discussing adolescent rebellion. In French. So that's some consolation
for my frustration.

Next time, I'm going to prepare the notes in advance, and then try to avoid looking at
them during the actual presentation. Maybe that will boost my fluidity a bit. And maybe
I should cough up some $ for Benny's book on "language hacking"—he's taken enough of
these exams at the B2, C1 and C2 levels, and he might have a couple of good ideas.
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 Message 76 of 1317
03 May 2012 at 5:24pm | IP Logged 
After getting destroyed on my practice DELF B2 oral presentation yesterday, I quickly
explained it to my wife this evening, and I did just fine, with much smoother delivery.
Go figure.


Today's exercise from VDM:

Aujourd'hui, trou de mémoire, j'attends de la visite mais ne sachant plus de
qui, dans le doute, je fais le ménage à fond de bon matin. 14 h, la sonnette retentit.
Ah, ça y est, je me souviens. C'est la femme de ménage qui vient pour la première fois.

Aujourd'hui, alors que j'oublie souvent de nourrir mon lapin, ce dernier a trouvé une
nouvelle technique pour me rappeler à l'ordre. Il attrape dans ses dents la petite
coupelle qui lui sert de gamelle et la balance contre les parois de la cage tous les
soirs au moment où je vais me coucher. VDM

Aujourd'hui, comme depuis plusieurs semaines, dès que je reçois un message sur mon
portable, ma sœur se rue dessus, lit le message et le supprime aussitôt. Ensuite, je
suis obligé de la payer pour connaitre le message et l'expéditeur. VDM

Personally, I don't blame the rabbit one bit. As they say on VDM, "Tu l'as bien

à fond: Thoroughly.
de bon matin: Bright and early in the morning.
une coupelle: A little cup.
une gamelle: (for humans) A lunchbox. (for animals) A food bowl.
balancer: To swing, to rock. This actually has a whole list of idiomatic
meanings, such as to hurl an insult.
se ruer: To throw oneself (onto or into something).

As usual, there's a lot of good vocabulary here. And it's not stuff that you can easily
pick up from books.


And now some Tin Tin, from L'Oreille Cassée. Two villans, one of them a knife-
thrower with a Spanish accent, have decided that Tin Tin has followed them onto a
passenger ship in disguise. The knife thrower always hits about 9" to the right of his
target, so his companion has told him to aim left. They're chasing an innocent
passenger, thinking that he must be Tin Tin in disguise.

Watch out for the Spanish accent—you can see it in the spelling.


Pour le première fois, le couteau est trop à gauche.

Méchant espagnol : Ouf ! Y'ai eu chaud ! Et ce qui m'enrage, c'est d'avoir raté
! C'est ta faute aussi, avec ton « vise plous à gauche » !

L'autre méchant : C'est bien le première fois que tu atteins le point que tu
vises. D'ailleurs, tout compte fait, cella vaut mieux ainsi, puisque ce n'était pas

Méchant espagnol : C'est vrai. Et pourtant, y'aurais youré qué c'était lui ; ce
n'est qu'au son dé sa voix qué y'ai été détrompé.

Méchant espagnol : Il reste l'autre, maintenant : le petit vieillard.

tout compte fait: All in all, taking everything into account (used in speech).
vieillard: Old man, though this is obvious from context and the root "vieille."

Y'ai, y'aurais, youré:: All these should theoretically start with "j". Spanish
lacks the [ʒ] sound, so he's replacing it with [j], which the French write as "y".

plous, youré: The "ou" in these words should be "u", which is pronounced [y].
But again, there's no such sound in Spanish, so here's using the back vowel [ u], just
like I often do. And the French spell this "ou". Hence, "juré" becomes "youŕe."

The Spanish villain also says "ouné" [une] instead of "une" [yne], and "yé" [ye]
instead of "je" [ʒə]. The former is actually a bit surprising (does he really need to
add a gratuitous trailing vowel, and if so, why [e]?), and the latter is a simple
mapping of [ə] to [e], because Spanish lacks the unstressed vowel.

I pretty much worked out all of this on the fly, and confirmed the IPA symbols and
Spanish phonology afterwards. That cheered me up a bit after yesterday.


A few months ago, I could understand Tin Tin, but it was still a bit "blurry." I was
missing a lot of vocabulary, relying on context, and glossing over some weird verb
forms. This are much sharper now. I find myself saying things like, "Oh, so you use the
subjunctive in that expression, that's good to know," and, "Yup, that's a good spot to
use the imperfect." I'm still missing some vocabulary, but it's increasingly
specialized stuff.

Since I'm picking up on a lot more fine details, I probably need to go on another
reading binge. But it's good to know that all this work is really paying off. Whether
or not I can squeak by the B2 exam in 40ish days, I can already forsee the day when I
can read casually in French.

Edited by emk on 03 May 2012 at 5:25pm

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 Message 77 of 1317
06 May 2012 at 10:13pm | IP Logged 
Friday went really well. I had two long discussions, one with my tutor and one with a
language exchange partner, and I managed to explain some fairly complicated ideas
without completely falling over my tongue.

Just an example, I'd read a blog post about the French election titled "The Economist
fails the Turing Test again." I managed to unpack all the cultural references in this
headline and explain them to a non-technical French speaker, and did all this while
maintaining reasonably fluid speech and a tolerable intonation. This involved
explaining the editorial stance of the Economist, Alan Turing's role in WW2, how the
Turing Test worked, and why "fails the Turing Test again" was a particularly nasty and
appropriate insult.

At the very least, that's got to be near a B2-level conversation. Let's pull up
the very conservative assessment grid from the Swiss European Language Portfolio:

Spoken Production

I can give clear, detailed descriptions on a wide range of subjects related to my
fields of interest.
I can understand and summarise orally short extracts from news items, interviews or
documentaries containing opinions, argument and discussion.
I can understand and summarise orally the plot and sequence of events in an extract
from a film or play.
I can construct a chain of reasoned argument, linking my ideas logically.
I can explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of
various options.
I can speculate about causes, consequences, hypothetical situations.


I can use standard phrases like ”That’s a difficult question to answer” to gain time
and keep the turn while formulating what to say.
I can make a note of ”favourite mistakes” and consciously monitor speech for them.
I can generally correct slips and errors if I become aware of them or if they have led
to misunderstandings.

Language Quality

I can produce stretches of language with a fairly even tempo; although I can be
hesitant as I search for expressions, there are few noticeably long pauses.
I can pass on detailed information reliably.
I have sufficient vocabulary to express myself on matters connected to my field and on
most general topics.
I can communicate with reasonable accuracy and can correct mistakes if they have led to

So yeah, I think I'm getting there, at least as long as nobody asks me to give a 10
minute presentation on the problems of teenagers. I can't do this all the time—I need
to be warmed up, but not yet exhausted, and I have to care about the subject. But I'm
confident I can do it a semi-regular basis.


On the reading front, I'm doing some Tin Tin, some of the French version of
Linux From Scratch (there are at least 3 French words for "command-line option",
the ugliest of which is un drapeau), a dollop of art history, and anything else
which strikes my fancy. Like khatzumoto at AJATT, I rarely bother to finish anything.

My reading speed is way down today, because I'm doing Antimoon's "stop and think"
technique, and digging out all the interesting bits. I'm also trying to be very
conscious of gender (especially when marked by 'du', 'de la' or an adjective) and about
unusual verb tenses.
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 Message 78 of 1317
07 May 2012 at 7:43pm | IP Logged 
J'aimais bien écrire ce journal, parce que je pense qu'il n'y a pas assez d'anecdotes
personnelles des gens qui travaillent entre les niveaux B1 et C1. Tout le monde, au
moins ici, connait comment on peut achever le niveau B1 — et Assimil n'est pas très
cher. Mais après ça, tout est flou. Oui, on doit lire et parler, cela est clair. Mais
c'est vraiment difficile d’envisager le processus réel, du moins si c'est la première
fois qu'on a appris une langue étrangère. C'est pourquoi j'écrivais tant d'entrée en
anglais dans ce journal. Je veux me souvenir le chemin.

Mais le temps est venu de faire plus. Ce week-end, il faut que j'aie utilisé beaucoup
d'anglais. Ce matin, j'avais des problèmes de compréhension et production. Je pense que
je dois désormais éviter d'utiliser l'anglais quand c'est possible.

Donc, il me faut essayer de penser en français à plein temps, si je peux le faire. Il
sera difficile, parce que je suis encore stupide en français. Du moins j'ai un sens de
l'humour en français, et je peux exprimer les idées un peu difficiles. Néanmoins, je
perdrai quelque chose pendant un temps.

Si vous voulez me corriger, je l'aimerais bien. Vous pouvez le faire ici, ou sur


An English translation:

I've enjoyed writing this journal, because I think that there aren't enough
personal stories from people who are working between the levels B1 and C1. Everybody,
at least here, knows how to reach B1—and Assimil isn't that expensive. But it's very
hard to visualize the actual process, at least if it's the first time the you've
learned a foreign language. That's why I've been writing so many entries in this
journal. I want to remember the path.

But the time has come to do more. This week end, I had to use lots of English. This
morning, I was having some problems with comprehension and production.

So I need to think in French full time, if I can do it. It will be difficult, because
I'm still stupid in French. At least I have a sense of humor in French, and I can
express some slightly difficult ideas. Nevertheless, I'll lose something for a while.

Yes, this means that there won't be much English here for a while. I apologize to all
the non-Francophones who've been reading along, but I really want that B2, and I'm
tired of rebooting my French all the time. :-) But if you want to write something in
English here, that's totally OK. And if folks are interested, maybe I can translate
some entries later.

Wish me luck!

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 Message 79 of 1317
07 May 2012 at 8:12pm | IP Logged 
Doh! Just when I was about through reading your entry, I saw that you had provided a translation. Oh well, it was good practice. Good luck!
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 Message 80 of 1317
07 May 2012 at 9:00pm | IP Logged 
geoffw wrote:
Doh! Just when I was about through reading your entry, I saw that you had
provided a translation. Oh well, it was good practice. Good luck!

Merci ! Je suis heureux que tu aies pu me comprendre.

C'est mon dernière anglais ici pour le moment. Bien sûr que je fasse beaucoup de
fautes en français. Il faut bien commencer quelque part. Mais si je peux éviter de «
redémarrer » mon français tout le temps ( bonjour les métaphores informatiques ), ce sera
plus facile d'achever un B2 fort avant de l'examen.

Edited by emk on 11 May 2012 at 2:46pm

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