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garyb
Triglot
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ScotlandRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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Speaks: English*, Italian, French
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 Message 297 of 1317
16 November 2012 at 12:28pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
This past Tuesday evening I attended a French-speaking dinner organized through Meetup.com. Most of the people there were non-native speakers with levels ranging from B2–C2. Many of them had lived or studied in France, had married French speakers, and many taught French.

As usual at such events, my French was completely activated (more so than when I use it at home). I spoke more rapidly and idiomatically than I did during the DELF B2 exam this spring, and I had access to a larger vocabulary. I recall saying things like, "Oui, être travailleur independent, faut avoir un bon baratin publicitaire !" Under normal circumstances, I actually need to work to say something like that, but this Tuesday it was rolling off my tongue with relative ease.

Sadly, this level of fluency is rarely available when I'm speaking to my wife. I spend more of my time trapped near B2, where I can say pretty much anything I want to say, but it often feels like an uphill slog when we get beyond the conversational basics. Frankly, I'm getting rather sick of it, and I want more nuance and speed.


This actually reminds me of something that I've noticed in my French - I often seem to speak it better with other non-native speakers than with native speakers. Earlier this year I made friends with a French guy who was staying in my city for two months and we hung out a few times a week, speaking mostly French, and my French never seemed to quite be on top form when I was with him. But sometimes when I went to meetups during that period, where most speakers are non-natives at intermediate (B1-B2) level, it seemed to suddenly be "completely activated" as you put it.

I haven't quite figured out why. It seems like it could be a psychological thing - being with people whose level is similar to or lower than mine might give me a confidence/ego boost which makes me more relaxed and at ease, while with a native, their far higher level makes me feel worse or more nervous regarding my ability, making it more difficult to speak well. Or it could just purely be perception - maybe my French wasn't actually any better or worse in either situation, it just seemed so because I was comparing it to the standard of those I was speaking to. Or most likely, my friend and I talked about far more complex and personal subjects and that challenged my French a lot more than the relative small-talk of meetups. I do however find the opposite effect for pronunciation - when I'm around real French people and hearing their voices and accents, I find it easier to sound more French because I have something to aim for and try to imitate in almost "real time".

That said, our situations are completely different: you get a hell of a lot more practice with a native speaker than I do, and you gave an example of a sentence that you'd normally find difficult so that seems to rule out the perception idea, so it's hard to compare. It's probably just the usual ups and downs of language learning. On one hand, they say that the times you're struggling are the times that you're challenging yourself and going out of your comfort zone and improving, but on the other, when you're struggling with things one day that seemed well within your comfort zone the previous day, week, or month, it does feel pretty damn frustrating. Interestingly I've found recently that the less I worry about the ups and downs, the less severe they seem to be, because I don't get bogged down in the negative and frustrated thoughts.
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Expugnator
Hexaglot
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Brazil
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Speaks: Portuguese*, Norwegian, French, English, Italian, Papiamento
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 Message 298 of 1317
17 November 2012 at 8:46pm | IP Logged 
emk, when you're reading in French, do you have any specific criterion as for when to
look up a word in a dictionary? I'm realizing I'm spending quite an amount of time
looking up words at the Portuguese translation. I hardly ever come across situations when
the understanding of the context is damaged due to lack of a specific word. OTOH, I'm
aware that if I read a book just for meeting again the words I already know, it's no big
deal and I won't learn much from it. So, I need to find the good balance between those
two extremes.
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emk
Diglot
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United States
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 Message 299 of 1317
17 November 2012 at 9:30pm | IP Logged 
Thank you, sctroyenne and garyb, for your moral support and advice!

Expugnator wrote:
emk, when you're reading in French, do you have any specific criterion as for when to look up a word in a dictionary? I'm realizing I'm spending quite an amount of time looking up words at the Portuguese translation.


If I'm reading an ebook with a popup dictionary, I look up a lot of words, because it takes scarcely any time at all. If I'm reading a paper book, it depends on how lazy I'm feeling and how useful the word looks.

Even if I don't look up many words, there's always a lot of material that I understand, but which I haven't fully internalized. After all, there's a big difference between knowing the dictionary definition of a word and really knowing how the French use it. And if I can't be bothered to look up words, I try to pay more attention to idioms, prepositions, and habitual turns of phrase.


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Rout
Diglot
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United States
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326 posts - 417 votes 
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Studies: Hindi

 
 Message 300 of 1317
20 November 2012 at 1:56am | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
This past Tuesday evening I attended a French-speaking dinner organized through Meetup.com. Most of the people there were non-native speakers with levels ranging from B2–C2. Many of them had lived or studied in France, had married French speakers, and many taught French.

As usual at such events, my French was completely activated (more so than when I use it at home). I spoke more rapidly and idiomatically than I did during the DELF B2 exam this spring, and I had access to a larger vocabulary. I recall saying things like, "Oui, être travailleur independent, faut avoir un bon baratin publicitaire !" Under normal circumstances, I actually need to work to say something like that, but this Tuesday it was rolling off my tongue with relative ease.

Sadly, this level of fluency is rarely available when I'm speaking to my wife. I spend more of my time trapped near B2, where I can say pretty much anything I want to say, but it often feels like an uphill slog when we get beyond the conversational basics. Frankly, I'm getting rather sick of it, and I want more nuance and speed.


As to what garyb said, I notice something similar with respect to my emotion and confidence and their effects on my fluency. When I speak Spanish at work, I know only a limited number of situations will occur (I suppose this "island" is rather large) and I usually feel so supremely confident (because I've gone through these situations over and over) that my abilities start to snowball as the day proceeds. My fluency, pronunciation, listening comprehension (of all things), etc. improve so that by the end of the day I'm sputtering along in "uncharted territory" when I self-talk on the way home. The next day I'll have a speaking session with one of my tutors and I feel sluggish and void of confidence.

I know this is an older post, but I thought it was interesting you brought this up since I just watched a video on the subject, so I decided to reply. The speaker's videos are very helpful (even though they're intended for learners of English). This is one of his more boring videos but the information is useful.

emk wrote:
As for listening comprehension, I occasionally manage to push up to 90% on Buffy, but as soon as a I spend a few days away from TV or hit a hard episode, I drop back to 70% or so. Cavesa has suggested that I try to make it through an entire season of television in under two weeks, in blocks of 5-6 episodes at a time. Could it really be so easy to upgrade my listening skills?


Yes. I know that, as far as Indo-European languages go, French is a beast when it comes to listening comprehension but this has worked for me in the past in other (maybe "easier") languages. Oddly enough it's helped my speaking abilities too, since after 1.5-2 hours into it I'm pretty much just thinking in the target language to myself. This is a great way to gather words from context (visual and aural context) and not lose it (the increments between recycled vocabulary are such that you'll be running into the same words over and over before you get a change to forget them).

Another thing I've noticed is after watching TV originally filmed for the target language then returning to translations (e.g. Buffy), the translated series are much easier to understand even if the subject matter is completely unrelated. I'd love to see you try this and find out if the results corroborate my experience or if it was just a fluke on my part.

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emk
Diglot
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United States
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 Message 301 of 1317
24 November 2012 at 3:25pm | IP Logged 
Rout wrote:
Another thing I've noticed is after watching TV originally filmed for the target language then returning to translations (e.g. Buffy), the translated series are much easier to understand even if the subject matter is completely unrelated.


For a dubbed series, Buffy actually has some pretty challenging dialog. It's harder than most of the dubs I see on French TV, but it's still a lot easier than a native series like Engrenages.

And now it's time for recommendations:

L'homme qui plantait des arbres by Jean Giono. This is a short story about a (fictitious) old man who plants trees in the French hills. It's about 55 small, illustrated pages, and it's really quite sweet. If you liked Le Petit Prince, you'll probably like this. Suitable for anybody who can read French.

Les fourmis by Bernard Werber. I've read about a third of this, and it's by the best Werber I've read yet. The usual problem with Werber is that he recycles plots and ideas that were well-known in the 1940s, and he serves them up without any twists or stylistic charms. But at least so far, Les fourmis is more interesting and original than the other Werber books that I've read.

Étoiles mourantes by Ayerdhal et J.C. Dunyach. I've only read the first chapter, but so far, I'm quite pleased. It reminds me of Alastair Reynolds—there's a rich universe with lots of backstory, the details are revealed in tiny slices, and there's plenty of suspense. I want to know more about the universe, the characters, and the plot. One note of warning: This book is hard, with lots of metaphorical vocabulary. The first sentence should give you an idea:

Quote:
L'AnimalVille jaillit de néant et se laissa dériver au milieu de la mer d'étoiles.


My reading skills are B2+, I read lots of challenging SF in English, and I'm using the Kindle dictionary 5 or 6 times per page. Despite all this, I'm really having to work to keep on top of things, because the metaphors and general strangeness mean I have far less context than usual. But I'm actually reading it, which I couldn't do 6 months ago.
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sans-serif
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Finland
Joined 2721 days ago

298 posts - 470 votes 
Speaks: Finnish*, English, German, Swedish
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 Message 302 of 1317
24 November 2012 at 5:04pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

As for listening comprehension, I occasionally manage to push up to 90% on Buffy, but as soon as a I spend a few days away from TV or hit a hard episode, I drop back to 70% or so. Cavesa has suggested that I try to make it through an entire season of television in under two weeks, in blocks of 5-6 episodes at a time. Could it really be so easy to upgrade my listening skills?

I've experienced something similar with both Swedish and German, so I think it's worth a shot, if your schedule allows. Two or three weeks sounds about right to me, though I have to admit I didn't document my progress, and my recollections are rather vague. As I mentioned in the thread you started, I used informal podcasts and audio books rather than TV shows, but that makes little difference in my mind.

Whether with Cavesa's methods or by some other means, I encourage you to put a major focus on listening comprehension until you reach, for the lack of a better word, effortless listening. It should be achievable in a reasonable time frame, it pretty much maintains itself, and at least for me, is a great source of enjoyment. A sound investment, in other words.

A handy way to get more listening in, regardless of how you decide to proceed, is doing most of your reading in LR fashion, listening to audio books while following along with the text. This unfortunately limits you to books popular enough to be available in audio book, so you might have to put SF on hold, but I think it's still an option worth considering.
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geoffw
Triglot
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United States
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 Message 303 of 1317
24 November 2012 at 11:26pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

My reading skills are B2+, I read lots of challenging SF in English, and I'm using the Kindle dictionary 5 or 6 times
per page. Despite all this, I'm really having to work to keep on top of things, because the metaphors and general
strangeness mean I have far less context than usual. But I'm actually reading it, which I couldn't do 6 months ago.


Did you mean that you read SF translated from English into French?
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emk
Diglot
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 Message 304 of 1317
25 November 2012 at 3:26am | IP Logged 
geoffw wrote:
Did you mean that you read SF translated from English into French?


I actually have read French translations of books that I enjoyed in English. I find
that it's much easier to puzzle out words from context if I already know the story
well. And it's always fascinating to see how specific scenes get translated. But that
wasn't the specific advantage I was thinking of in this case. Let's see if I can
explain.

Science fiction is a relatively mature genre in English, dating back to books like H.G.
Wells' The Time Machine in 1895 and arguably Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
in 1818. Pretty much every possible story has been told a half-dozen times or more. For
example, if you want a book about soldiers in high-tech armor fighting giant bugs, you
can choose from Heinlein's Starship Troopers (about the relationship between
military service and civilian political authority), Haldeman's Forever War
(about the profound alienation soldiers feel returning to a changed culture),
Steakley's Armor (about a certain mix of courage and despair that soldiers feel
in combat) and Scalzi's Old Man's War (about regained youth and the politics
that lead to ugly wars). Each of these books takes the same initial premise, and does
something interesting with it.

In 100 years, a literary genre has time to mature. By 1950, an author like Heinlein
could invent a society which was different from our own in a hundred different ways,
with its own cultural assumptions, speech patterns and moral values. And he wouldn't
just come out and explain all this. Instead, he would hide all these changes in
the backstory, revealing them only in offhand remarks and other scattered hints.
(Actually, anybody at HTLAL should know how this works--have you ever found yourself
started by what another culture takes for granted? Has a casual remark ever blown your
mind?)

By 1990, you could find science fiction novels that took these techniques to extremes.
I can find you books in which human nature itself has changed, in which something as
big as immortality or the ability to redesign your own mind is treated almost as an
afterthought. And the reader is expected to keep up, to puzzle out the strange new
world from hints. (Good examples are Charles Stross and Greg Egan.) This is all great
fun, but it can be challenging if you're not expecting it.

For me, the fun part about Étoiles mourantes is that it's the first French SF
I've found that tries to play these games. In the first several chapters, I've been
introduced to organic, space-going cities that predate the human species, to people who
live in symbiosis with thousand-year-old sentient armor that preserves their ancestors'
souls, and to several layers of political plotting involving a caste-based, sexist
society. And apparently there are three other major cultures I haven't seen yet, each
of which has its own politics and its own non-trivial modifications to human nature.

Now, I have no idea whether this will turn out be a great book or not. But I'm pleased
that the authors know how the game is played. And this is where having read tons of SF
in English gives me an advantage: I'm familiar with genre conventions, I enjoy being a
bit confused, and I know how to reconstruct a fictional world from hints.

And frankly, I'm gratified that not all French SF is as simplistic as Werber's Nos
amis les humains
, which is basically, "A man and a woman wake up locked in a
mysterious room together! He's misanthropic jerk. She's a vapid airhead. They bicker
and then they have sex. What happened? Some aliens are keeping them as pets.
Like, totally woah!" As a character study, it's not particularly memorable. As SF,
well, it takes a lot more than that to blow my mind.


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