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French: Fresh, fun & effortless media

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emk
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 Message 545 of 1317
01 May 2013 at 7:02pm | IP Logged 
tastyonions wrote:
I don't use translation exercises to improve my French as much I used to, even L1 -> L2. These days I mostly just speak or write the language and ask people to correct me. Though it can be a good challenge when conversation partners ask me for French equivalents to English phrases and sentences they have come across.

My favorite game is "What's the most obscure French word I know?" I'm fond of things like "switchback", "window sill", "stirrup" and "airlock". :-) I swear that most natives know at least 15,000 of these little things, if you count the two-word phrases whose meaning can't be predicted from their components.

Well-read, adult native speakers are basically operating at the same level as Olympic athletes and chess grand masters. Fortunately, this is one of those things where a huge fraction of the total effort goes into those last few percent. If all you want to do is keep up with a talkative kindergartner, or read like a smart native 8-year-old, that's a very achievable goal. And you can build from there in a variety of very agreeable ways, depending on your sense of urgency.

patrickwilken wrote:
I don't want to derail your log. I hope you don't mind responding to your comments though.

Go right ahead. I enjoy conversations in my log as long as they're about something I posted, or a very short Q&A.

patrickwilken wrote:
I think mostly what this shows is that I don't like extensively reading. I like to look up words as I go along and input them into Anki so I keep the meaning. Whether this is an optimal strategy I don't know.

You might be surprised about how little I care about "optimal" strategies. :-) If somebody came up to me tomorrrow and told me, "You could make as much progress in 150 hours of <some disagreeable thing> as you could in 300 hours of watching TV, reading books and talking with people," I'd go right ahead with my current plan. I loathe drills. I love books and long rambling conversations. I like following good TV series with my wife when our brains are too fried to be productive. Doing all these things in French is fun, not work.

I also find Anki and lang-8 fun, but right now they're not priorities. I only have a modest amount of time per day, and I'd rather spend that on books, TV and conversations in French.
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patrickwilken
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Germany
radiant-flux.net
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 Message 546 of 1317
01 May 2013 at 7:23pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

You might be surprised about how little I care about "optimal" strategies. :-) If somebody came up to me tomorrrow and told me, "You could make as much progress in 150 hours of <some disagreeable thing> as you could in 300 hours of watching TV, reading books and talking with people," I'd go right ahead with my current plan. I loathe drills. I love books and long rambling conversations. I like following good TV series with my wife when our brains are too fried to be productive. Doing all these things in French is fun, not work.


I need to improve my L2 so I can get work, so there is a strong motivation for somewhat less pleasant methods, if that means I'll be on the job market a few months earlier. Or putting it another way: I will be on the job market in a few months, and my language level will dictate the sort of job I can get.

My background is vision science, which basically means I have spent hours at a time for years in a small dark room, looking at a computer monitor, trying to make judgments regarding (generally) boring visual stimuli, all the time having the frustration of making lots and lots of errors. Perhaps that's why I enjoy Anki so much. ;)

I am curious how your study time breaks down over a typical day/week. At the moment each day: I am doing Anki (45-60 mins); reading 2-3 hours; TV/movie (perhaps) 2 hours every second day. I sometimes do a bit more, sometimes a bit less, but I find much more than five hours a day fries my brain.

Edited by patrickwilken on 01 May 2013 at 8:04pm

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emk
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 Message 547 of 1317
01 May 2013 at 10:34pm | IP Logged 
patrickwilken wrote:
I am curious how your study time breaks down over a typical day/week. At the moment each day: I am doing Anki (45-60 mins); reading 2-3 hours; TV/movie (perhaps) 2 hours every second day. I sometimes do a bit more, sometimes a bit less, but I find much more than five hours a day fries my brain.

Right now, I put in maybe 20 hours per month, not counting the the time French is being used in our household. Since my wife speaks French with the kids and I speak it with her, this can add up to quite a few extra hours per day. On the other hand, I'm pretty solid on household French, so I'm not sure how much I learn from this. And I'm putting a lot of my spare time into my business and into kayaking right now.

During my "Taking it to the next level" push, where I went from A2 to B2 in 4 months, I was putting in about 5 hours per day. This time was divided between reading, listening, writing on lang-8, doing Anki reps, and practicing oral presentations with my tutor. These were often the 5 most productive hours of my day.

I've discovered a few good tricks since then, too. Maybe it's time to write everything up in a guide.

One way to get better quickly

This is what worked for me. There are probably better ways to learn, and in any case, everybody's different. This assumes you start from somewhere around A2 or B1, and you can struggle your way through native materials in a semi-enjoyable fashion. It also assumes that your tastes and your brain resemble mine.

Effort levels and exhaustion. You only have so many good hours in a day, so figure out how to use the bad ones. Use Anki to pick up slivers of lost time, or read L2 websites on your phone, or whatever. Build a long list of L2 activities that you can do once your brain is fried—following a TV series is great for this. Never hesitate to veg out using extensive activities. If you're falling asleep, take a nap.

Reading. Aim for a large amount of extensive reading, on the order of 500 pages per month. Don't hesitate to read translations of your favorite books, books on familiar subjects, graphic novels, or anything else which gives you a comprehension boost. Search out materials with lots of colloquial language (like VDM in French); you'll need this to help with TV. Make Anki sentence and MCD cards, either by copy-paste from online text, or by highlighting entire sentences on your Kindle. (To export sentences from the Kindle to Anki, look for the text file on your Kindle containing your highlighted passages, or go to kindle.amazon.com.) Try to notice a couple of interesting words, expressions or bits of grammar per page.

Listening. For extensive listening, find a cool TV series with relatively straightforward plots and small cast. (Buffy is excellent. Engrenages is asking for trouble, with its large cast and complicated, interwoven plots. Also consider long documentary series on familiar subjects.) You may need to watch the first season episodes several times using transcripts or subtitles, depending on your level. For intensive listening, try subs2srs, which makes Anki decks out of bilingual subtitles. Configure it to show one line on either side of the dialog in question, and apply at least 1.5 seconds of padding to each end of the audio clips. Include images in the cards, but not video. When reviewing the cards, delete aggressively—80% or 90% deletion would be reasonable. Review quickly. Expect to see substantial comprehension gains on 20- to 30-day-old cards. Note that subs2srs requires a high level of technical expertise and a day of messing around—non-technical users should find some other way to listen.

Writing. 100 words per day, corrected, for 30 days. See my notes on using lang-8, or hire a tutor. Subjects: Anything that you tried to talk about, but failed. Anything that strikes your fancy. Your life. Your profession.

Speaking. (1) Your first job is "activation". Put yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to use your TL. Your brain will melt horribly for about 2 weeks. After about 6 weeks you should be able to manage day-to-day life. (2) Your second job is to push yourself. Strongly consider hiring a good tutor, somebody who can push you right up to your limits without stressing you out, and who can give you feedback. (3) Your ultimate task is full social and professional integration. This is also known "as not asking groups of native speakers to slow down for you." (I definitely have a ways to go on this one.)

Troubleshooting. Focus your efforts on whatever weakness is bothering you the most.

Anyway, that's my current recipe for getting better quickly. Depending on how good business is this summer, I'm going to try to free up time for another hard-core push later this year.

Edited by emk on 02 May 2013 at 12:12am

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emk
Diglot
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United States
Joined 3702 days ago

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Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
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 Message 548 of 1317
02 May 2013 at 1:42pm | IP Logged 
I'm actually enjoying Le puits des mémoires, which has been mentioned at least once before on HTLAL. This appears to be one of those never-ending fantasy epics (1200 pages and counting), with lots of swords and sorcery and three mysterious heroes. The heroes are all the more mysterious for suffering near-complete amnesia. But they're being hunted by a horde of soldiers in black and gold armor, so somebody knows who they are.

If you like long fantasy epics, definitely take a look. If you can take 'em or leave 'em, well, this book is a competent and entertaining example of the genre, but nothing you need to go out of your way to hunt down. As for the language-learning aspect, I'm finding a lot of unfamiliar vocabulary here, but most of it can be safely skimmed without losing the plot.

Of course, if you like swords and action, you should also strongly consider Les trois mousquetaires, which is a classic for a reason, and which you can get for free on the e-reader of your choice.



Edited by emk on 02 May 2013 at 1:50pm

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emk
Diglot
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United States
Joined 3702 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 549 of 1317
03 May 2013 at 5:28pm | IP Logged 
I always love discussions among French speakers learning English:

Top 10 des expressions anglaises les plus étranges une fois traduites
Anglais 5 minutes

As I recently mentioned, I'm currently trying to properly activate a lot of my hand-won passive skills. The ultimate goal is to get well outside of my comfort areas. I had a really great Skype conversation this morning, where I spoke acceptably quickly, fluently and idiomatically, with only a handful of self-corrections and pauses while I looked for a word. The conversation was, however, mostly on familiar subjects. Given a good day and the right topics, I really can fake C1. But of course, the Alliance Française examiners are extremely sneaky, and wouldn't be fooled for a minute.

My language exchange partner speaks to a lot of people learning French, and a lot them struggle enormously. One thing that all these struggling students have in common is that they generally don't read French books, watch French TV or films, or listen to the radio. So they really don't know what French is supposed to sound like, or how French people actually talk. I know a few people still think of media as self-indulgent and not really productive, but I can't understand how anyone expects students to memorize a language by brute force without an ocean of input.

I've also emailed my former tutor, and will be trying to set up a regular appointment.
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patrickwilken
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 Message 550 of 1317
03 May 2013 at 7:15pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

My language exchange partner speaks to a lot of people learning French, and a lot them struggle enormously. One thing that all these struggling students have in common is that they generally don't read French books, watch French TV or films, or listen to the radio. So they really don't know what French is supposed to sound like, or how French people actually talk. I know a few people still think of media as self-indulgent and not really productive, but I can't understand how anyone expects students to memorize a language by brute force without an ocean of input.


The same thing happens here in Berlin with people learning German. I've become friends with a couple of people who run a language school here, and which I think they are good teachers, they really don't encourage people to go outside the classroom. But they also won't teach people how to use Anki or whatever.

My sense is that for most language schools what happens outside the classroom is not important. I think it's a bit stupid really.
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emk
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 Message 551 of 1317
04 May 2013 at 1:31pm | IP Logged 
patrickwilken wrote:
My sense is that for most language schools what happens outside the classroom is not important. I think it's a bit stupid really.

One of the problems with most language schools is that nobody holds anybody accountable for actually reaching fluency:

1. The students don't want to take personal responsibility for learning the language.
2. The teachers are just as happy that nobody that holds them accountable for the student's success.

One of the things that I admire about Khatzumoto's AJATT program is that he actually offers a money-back guarantee. The Middlebury Language Schools expel students for using anything other than the TL, so everybody involved there has some incentive to actually succeed. And of course the FSI and DLI hold students accountable for success, and the schools are held accountable in turn. But language schools like this aren't the rule. From what you're saying, it sounds like even German students and schools in Germany aren't focused on real results, which seems unfortunate.

The only analogous situation I can think of are the hordes of people who want to be published authors, many of whom can't write at a commercially salable level (and who don't seem to know it). There's a whole industry of "publishers" which exist to prey on these people and separate them from thousands of their dollars. And in the end, the proud "author" will sell maybe 50 copies of their book, mostly to friends, family and the local bookstore. OK, so maybe this example is more pernicious than most language schools, but the collusion between the authors and "publishers" reminds me of the collusion between the students and teachers of languages, where everyone is complicit in mediocrity.

And the sad is thing is that learning languages is basically an agreeable and pleasant process. Sure, it involves a lot of hours. But a lot of those hours can be spent doing pretty self-indulgent things: reading books, watching TV, reading websites, and so on. I mean, between parenting and my business, I can't justify spending much time vegging out on the couch or chatting with random strangers online. Learning French gives me an excuse.

Edited by emk on 05 May 2013 at 12:15pm

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roberto7
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 Message 552 of 1317
04 May 2013 at 11:05pm | IP Logged 
I want to admire what you're doing to learn languages, especially the tres chic french :)

I wish you good luck:)

BTW I inspired by you about learning to write in target language.
Thank you for that! :)


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