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emk
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 Message 233 of 1317
08 October 2012 at 4:21pm | IP Logged 
Conversational progress

Yesterday was great! In the morning, I spent a while chopping Amélie and Taxi into 5-minute-long MP3s. Then I loaded these onto my phone, and spent a couple of hours listening to them on shuffle. In the evening, I read 50 pages of Ronde de nuit, which is getting slightly easier. I'm up to 30 pages per hour, with comprehension a bit less precise than Le vieil homme et la guerre.

Then I had a long conversation with my wife while we reorganized the kitchen cabinets. And this went great: With a bit of concentration, I could express fairly complicated ideas at conversational speed. Most of the time, I had a choice of between different shades of meaning, and I could often find a genuinely French idiom for what I wanted to say. (Thanks to Anki, I have thousands of little idiomatic bits in my memory.)

This was probably my first foreshadowing of C1 speech skills. To reach C1, I'll need to make big improvements in several areas: Nuance, speed, error rates, accent, and so on. Last night, my nuance definitely wasn't at C1—but I was starting to see big pieces of what I'll need to perfect. As always, this came at a price: My accent was a little stilted and imperfect.

Looking back, I remember my first foreshadowing of B2 speech skills—an evening at the Alliance Française, where I absolutely owned typical B1 topics and could discuss them with ease. It took another month or two of intensive work before I could routinely function at that level. So C1 is still a long way off, but on my best days, I'm going to start seeing small pieces of it.

Chopping and shuffling DVDs

So while I'm here, let's talk about my new extensive listening strategy: Chopping a couple of movies into 5-minute-long MP3s and playing them on shuffle. Here's what's cool:

1) You get lots of high-speed conversational audio.
2) You already know and like the story, so there's plenty of context.
3) 5 minutes is long enough to contain a complete scene or two.
4) 5 minutes is short enough that it doesn't feel like a big commitment.
5) If you're also using subs2srs on the film, you can boost & reinforce understanding.
6) The occasional car chase or scene without dialog gives you a breather.
7) Something new and different will be along in 5 minutes.
8) You hear the individual chunks many times, so you can pick up more and internalize the content.

Subjectively, it's sort of a nice, pleasant blur. There's always some interesting, quickly-spoken French available, but you never feel obliged to pay attention, because you're just getting little bite-sized pieces at random. It's a low-stress, low-commitment approach, and it's really easy to turn on and leave on.

It's also very different from streaming news radio: The individual audio snippets are more challenging, but there's more dead space. This reminds me of modern theories of teaching Morse code: It's better to have full-speed input with dead space than to have continuous slow input, because it's easier to reduce the dead space than to speed up auditory processing.

If you need tools to create 5-minute chunks, check out the audio extraction features in subs2srs.

Two movies I want to work with soon: Bon Cop, Bad Cop and Intouchables. The former will be interesting, because it aggressively mixes standard French, Quebec French, heavy Joual, English, and various alarming combinations of the above.

Edited by emk on 08 October 2012 at 6:06pm

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emk
Diglot
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United States
Joined 3692 days ago

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 Message 234 of 1317
09 October 2012 at 2:07pm | IP Logged 
I seem to be on a roll lately. Ronde de nuit was a nice fast read last night (20 or 30 pages?), although there's still a lot of new vocabulary.

But the best part was last night's episode of Buffy: For the first 30 minutes or so, I understood close to 90% of the dialog. After that, I dropped back to about 70% or so. Still, my decoding of full-speed French is definitely getting better.

I'm worrying less about the 10–30% that I don't get. That's what subs2srs and Anki are for, because some of that difficult stuff really is surprisingly difficult, and I need to tackle it a line at a time. So if I miss a line of Buffy in real time, maybe I'll rewind once, or maybe I'll let it go. It's not like I don't have 2000 listening comprehension cards lined up and ready to go. :-)

Right now, it feels good to push my passive skills hard. There's a lot that I can unlock with some consistent practice. I've got books, shows and films that I like, and I've got good tools.

Onwards!

(Oh, and some fragments of dialog from Taxi.)

Edited by emk on 09 October 2012 at 2:09pm

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emk
Diglot
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United States
Joined 3692 days ago

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Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
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 Message 235 of 1317
11 October 2012 at 6:02pm | IP Logged 
Buffy continues to come and go. I have great moments, where I can untangle really fast conversations on the fly, the first time through. And I have bad moments, where a whole 2-minute scene is only 50% comprehensible after multiple rewinds. But the balance is definitely shifting in my favor.

I had another flicker of speaking competence last night. My nuance and idiomatics were better than average, but my speed was suddenly very fast—I was rattling off entire sentences at several times my normal speed, fast enough to actually need reductions.

Screenshots

Here's what I've been doing lately. First, here's a Anki card for Amélie, made using subs2srs:



The audio on this card corresponds to the large, boldfaced text on the bottom. I tell subs2srs to keep one line of context (and a full second of audio) on either side of this line.

The front side of the card contains the audio and the picture. The back side contains the French and English subtitles, though I only use the English subtitles to avoid an occasional trip to the dictionary.

I delete 25–75% of these cards the first time I see them, and I continue to delete more during later reviews.

Here's another card, from Taxi:



You'll notice that I don't have any French subtitles here, so I'm forced to work out what they're saying in French. This is hard, and I normally throw out cards if I can't figure them out in 5 to 10 replays.

I've taken these same soundtracks and split them into 5-minute MP3s, which I upload to Google Music and play on my phone (and on my laptop, and in my car):



I normally play these tracks on shuffle, which makes them feel less like a commitment and more like background noise.

I'm really starting to love movie audio: It's fast, idiomatic and entertaining, and it comes with visual context, fully-synchronized transcripts and even translations. Using subs2srs, I can deal with it in tiny chunks, review it as needed, and create nice chunks of background audio.

Edited by emk on 12 October 2012 at 3:06am

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emk
Diglot
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United States
Joined 3692 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
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 Message 236 of 1317
12 October 2012 at 3:26am | IP Logged 
I just figured out how to use SubRip to extract subtitles from DVDs and turn them into plain text. It's not too hard, but set aside a few extra hours the first time.

This means you can now get reasonably exact subs for Banlieue 13 for use with subs2srs.

Movies for which I now have Anki 2 decks, or at least files ready for import: Amélie, Taxi, Bon Cop Bad Cop, Banlieue 13. Collectively that's about 4500 listening exercises across multiple dialects and registers. As usual, you can try a small sample.

Note that my results from these decks may be atypical. I've already know a decent amount of French, several of my skills been on a plateau for a while, and I'm almost keeping up with the Super Challenge. So maybe I just got lucky and unlocked something that was already there. Still, everybody always needs more listening comprehension tools, right?
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sctroyenne
Diglot
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 Message 237 of 1317
13 October 2012 at 1:03am | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
I just figured out how to use
SubRip
to extract subtitles from DVDs and turn them into plain text. It's not too hard,
but set aside a few extra hours the first time.


I've been hoping for some kind of tool like that but hours?
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emk
Diglot
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 Message 238 of 1317
13 October 2012 at 1:51am | IP Logged 
sctroyenne wrote:
I've been hoping for some kind of tool like that but hours?


The key phrase here is "the first time." Once you figure out your workflow, it's about 5 minutes of active attention per subtitle track, plus another 30 or 40 minutes in the background. Every 5 minutes or so, SubRip will beep and ask you to identify a new letter, which takes about 5 seconds.

If you're doing a television series, they'll probably use the same subtitle font throughout an entire season, so everything after episode 1 will be automatic.

The real headache with these tools is processing your first movie. You need to do the following:

1. Figure out which DVD title, audio track and subtitle tracks you want to use.
2. Figure out how to rip a Region 2 DVD to disk, preferably in *.vob format.
3. Cope with any copy protection, scratches, or other brain damage.
4. Either download your subs, or learn how to use SubRip.
5. Learn how to use subs2srs, including tweaking a few parameters.
6. Make sure your subs line up with your copy of the movie.
7. Import everything into Anki and make a nice new card template.

If you're basically competent with computers, you can figure all this out in a day or so. After you've done your first movie or two, it gets radically easier.

I know it all sounds massively unreasonable, but seriously, investing a day to make 1,000 Anki cards from your favorite challenging movie is actually pretty efficient. And every movie after that is much easier.

I'm now 95+% solid on the first 10 minutes of Amélie (the other 5% will mostly clear up in the next several rounds of Anki reviews). Considering that I wasn't much better than 50% on Amélie when I started, that's a decent improvement. Total effort: about an hour and 10 minutes of Anki reviews, nearly all of which was in the initial learning phase.
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emk
Diglot
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United States
Joined 3692 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 239 of 1317
15 October 2012 at 8:53pm | IP Logged 
Lots of French conversation this weekend, with some people I don't speak to all that often. My output continues to be all over the map, and I seem to have temporarily lost my high-speed French. I'm sure it will be back.

Buffy is going really well. Season 4 episode 12 was 90+% comprehensible with only a handful of rewinds and maybe a half dozen questions to my wife. This is a big improvement over season 1 episode 1, that's for sure.

I made it through my Anki cards for the first 10 minutes of Taxi, and decided not to import the rest of the movie. I was certainly making good progress with the dialog, but the lack of good French subs meant that it was taking twice as long for half the payoff.

Maybe I'll replace Taxi with Banlieue 13 (a movie with an amazingly inconsistent plot, decent action scenes, and lots of highly colloquial dialog). Or maybe I'll cough up $40 for an imported copy of Intouchables with French subs.

In the meantime, I've just decided to step Amélie up to 20 cards per day. This will make for a heavy review load (plateauing around 45 minutes per day, I'd guess), so I'm going to make aggressive use of the "Delete" command.

It's interesting just how unstable the pronoun je can be in speech. Some examples:

Chuis -> Je suis (common)
Chais -> Je sais (common)
yaime -> J'aime (Amélie does this occasionally)

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Expugnator
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Brazil
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 Message 240 of 1317
15 October 2012 at 10:22pm | IP Logged 
emk, I've browsed backwards through your log and I'm considering reading Voltaire as my 2nd book in French (I'm about to finish a translation of a Brazilian book and I'd going to read Le Petit Prince in parallel Georgian-French). What do you think? Is there another one you'd recommend instead?


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