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TAC ’15 French Spanish Celtic Adv Study

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Senior Member
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739 posts - 1312 votes 
Speaks: English*, French
Studies: Spanish, Irish

 Message 1 of 336
09 April 2012 at 5:22pm | IP Logged 
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After mostly lurking for a long time, I figured it's finally time to start a log. I'm
currently an English language assistant, living in Paris for the second time (was here
for study abroad two years ago), hoping to get renewed for a third year. In the
meantime I'm trying to take as much advantage of the opportunity to get my French as
strong as possible.

I'd say I could easily pass the C1 exam with just some preparation for the written part
(the format, building up my writing speed) and some preparation for the test format in
general. But I would really like to pass the C2 exam and I don't think I'm quite there

I have a method, Alter Ego 5, which is composed of various authentic written and audio
materials followed by exercises to aid in analysis, writing and discussion. It also has
some vocabulary (mostly idiomatic expressions and working on distinguishing between
registers) and exercises for preparing for the DALF and other academic/professional
activities that a person at C1/C2 would would need to know. In addition, there's a
cahier which reviews grammar, style and vocabulary (though none is explicitly taught as
the user ought to have seen everything by this level). I also have a book, Expression
et Style, that works specifically on the various logical relationships of a
sentence/full text (cause, conséquence, but, hypothèse, temps, etc) to help boost my
writing. I also just got a guide to doing a review, a compte rendu and a synthèse and

I'm trying to learn as much vocabulry as I can, mostly from the free newspapers on the
Metro, Le Canard Enchaîné and words and expressions I make out when watching DVDs in
French. Though there are times I feel swamped.

In my non-study time I mainly stick to speaking just French, going out a lot with The conversations can be challenging - sometimes I have trouble
thinking of what to say other than "I'm American" and "What kind of outings do you go
to on OVS" but other times it's great. But I have to say that I think it's made me more
self-conscious about my accent. Or my accent has really gotten worse.

Other than French, I've now started Spanish. I intended to learn Spanish a while ago
but it was hard giving up French time to start a new language. But I did collect some
materials which led to a day about a month ago where I just pulled my "Easy Spanish
Reader" off the shelf, started reading it and didn't put it down for 3 days. I enjoyed
being able to "learn" to read Spanish with very little effort so I was inspired to
finally start. I'm almost done with Michel Thomas beginning Spanish, have advanced cued
up plus I'm working through Madrigal's Magical Key to Spanish. I also found two French
language partners who are bilignual in Spanish so I can start getting some coversation
in as well. On one hand, I'm pretty stoked that between my general exposure to Spanish
coming from California and my knowledge of French that I'm building up to a decent
level of passive knowledge in Spanish (mostly reading, but oral comprehension as well).
But on the other hand it's frustrating that I feel I can't say much of anything.

And lastly, after a trip to Scotland I was inspired to learn Scottish Gaelic. But I
soon figured that considering there has been more attempt to keep Irish alive and that
there seems to be more media in Irish available that it would be more "practical" to
learn Irish instead. At first the spelling system was so foreign to me (still is,
really, but slowly making a little sense of it) so I got the short Pimsleur course
which has helped. Working through the second half, which is more challenging plus
started in on Teach Yourself Irish (1961), staying within the Munster dialect. Since I
don't want to get overwhelmed, I'll try to keep Irish on a regular "dabbling" schedule
for now.

A long introduction, I know, but those are my projects for now. I welcome any advice,
especially from anyone who's worked up to C2 from C1!

Edited by sctroyenne on 07 January 2015 at 7:13am

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 Message 2 of 336
09 April 2012 at 9:18pm | IP Logged 
I look forward to reading your log! I'm currently on a long slog from B1ish to B2 with
the help of part-time immersion, and I'm looking forward to seeing how you prepare for
the C2 exams.

Sometime when you have a few spare moments, I'd love to hear how you made it to an
advanced level. Did you study? Did you immerse yourself? How long did it take?

Good luck with your studies!
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 Message 3 of 336
11 April 2012 at 10:28am | IP Logged 
As requested, here's my French-learning process. It turned out pretty long, but hey,
it's my log :-)

My French journey:

I started French in high school. I was motivated out of the love I had for musicals at
the time, my two favorites being based in French literature, Phantom of the Opera and
Les Miserables. But for some reason, while it was a pretty strong subject for me, I
never did much study of French outside of what was required for the class. I mainly
stuck to doing my homework and that was it. This was right before there was tons of
stuff available online, online shopping was just getting off the ground, etc so there's
one excuse. My fourth year I was in AP French and I got a 4 out of 5 on the exam (I
suspect my spoken French was my weakest point). I wouldn't say at all that my high
school education was useless - I got a decent base that stuck with me, it just wasn't
efficient, especially considering I didn't put in the extra work on the side like I did
with music (I took music but I knew that the real work happened when you practice in

I tested into 3rd semester French in college (3 semesters of a foreign language were
required), which was higher than most freshmen, even among the honors students, who
mostly placed in 2nd semester. I decided to do the 4th semester and went on to a
writing class which wasn't very rigourous. We wrote fiction rather than academic
French, which while more fun than dissertations, comptes rendus, résumés, synthèses,
etc it didn't really push our level. I stopped going to college for a while to work and
in the meantime didn't do much with French apart from taking out a grammar book from
time to time. I took a trip to London and Paris in 2007. I was pleased to discover that
I had retained quite a bit and if I understood the situation I was in, I could
understand the speaker. So I succeeded in a few fairly complicated transactions with
service employees who didn't know English.

I decided to go back to school and I really wanted to study abroad as I hadn't taken
that opportunity the first time. I was leaning towards England but as competition is
really high to get into the UK study abroad programs, the counselors nudged me towards
Paris as I had all the prerequisites (equivalent of 2 years of college level). Despite
the fact that I hadn't done much to keep up my French, I had retained quite a bit which
allowed me to test into beyond 4th semester French, so I was eligible for all the
French electives and core classes for the major/minor. Since I was now focused on going
to Paris, I put myself in gear to get my French level up. I added TV5 Monde to my cable
package, an excellent use of $11 per month, and kept it on all the time. I was happy to
see that I could understand a lot. Though TV can be a bit deceptive - the fact that
there are images helps you think you can understand more than you can. But I could pick
out words here and there and get the gist of everything, plus sometimes understand
more. I also enrolled in an upper division class: Contemporary French Civilization,
which turned out to be the ideal class to take before going to live in France. It
covered all aspects of contemporary French society: politics, labor, family,
education, economy and business, etc which was great for being able to really
understand French news (can't find the textbook we used but here's a similar, albeit
very expensive one: Institutions-Republique/dp/0838460097/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid =1334131902&sr=8-2">La
civilisation française en evolution
). This was also my first French class that
wasn't specifically an FLE (français langue etrangère) class. There was some French
instruction, of course, but it wasn't the point of the class. At first, listening to a
lecture and taking notes at the same time in French was quite difficult but I got
accustomed to it. We regularly had short compositions (minimum half a page typed, voire
plus) where we responded to questions in the reading. It was sometimes hard for me to
write that much and I would have quite a few mistakes. I would frequently get an A- as
a "discount" because of mistakes.

After having TV5 Monde for a few months, I had my first and only true breakthrough: a
moment where I just looked up from what I was doing to watch the program and suddenly I
went from hearing mostly sound with words popping out here and there to understanding
the vast majority of what I heard. Words that I didn't know were isolated enough so
that I could distinguish them, write them down and look them up if I wanted to. Even
though I'd go on to make a lot more progress, this was really my only magical moment
where all of a sudden I noticed how much stronger my level had gotten.

In Paris with my study abroad group, we started the year with a 5 week intensive French
class (4 hours a day). I was placed in the advanced level - all of us were hovering
around B1 with some skills maybe being slightly worse and some slightly better. After
the initial course, I took classes with regular French students, so I had lectures
where I took notes in politics, history and economics. I also took an advanced grammer
course offered by the exchange program. The course was good at working on all the
little conjunctions (*book*) and connectors and laid out grammar according to the
relationship established in the sentence (consequence, wish, goal/purpose, time,
opposition, etc). It really helped solidify subjunctive and knowing the connectors
helped fill in "holes" for my listening comprehension. Unfortanately we didn't learn
much about academic writing in French so all of us who had chosen the full integration
route had to look on jealously at all those in the FLE classes who are getting 20/20
with ease.

I started going out on dates, and even though they didn't turn into much I got great
practice speaking. Before that I had only ever given remarks in class discussions and
had done two 10-minute oral presentations and now I was suddenly having one-on-one
conversations for hours. I began to learn to drop "nous" for "on" and all the "ne"s
from my negations.

I didn't have television at my place but I had high speed internet so I watched a lot
of streaming video. At first I hated dubbing but I got used to it. The first show I
watched that had dubbing that I thought was actually pretty good was "The Adventures of
Lois and Clark" and after that it was easier to watch other stuff (though the worst is
still dubbed children's voices *shudder*).

Around this time, I started looking for advice on learning a language on my own as I
wasn't taking many FLE classes and that's when I found this forum and all the various
language learning blogs. I learned about SRS and I started mining my
Edition/dp/2090337036/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334132 290&sr=1-1">grammar
and my vocabulary book for sentences and whatever sentences I could make out
that were interesting sturcture-wise or that introduced vocabulary. What I found
particularly great was when I learned an idiomatic expression from my
interm%C3%A9diaire/dp/2090337192/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334 132383&sr=8-1">vocabulary
and then heard it be used in TV or in conversation (since you're never sure
if the more informal language that is taught in books is actually used).

I continued like this for the rest of the year - talking mostly one on one with French
people, though communicating a good deal with the other American students in my program
as well, along with watching series in French and doing SRS based on my books and what
I culled from series. I went on to watch Buffy and I found a site with transcripts
which was great for getting exact phrases. I alternated between studying them in depth
and just watching a lot. I also read a bit (though not a lot) and the reading I did was
great for helping me internalize grammer, and discovering new structures that helped
"de-franglicize" my French (which is still a process).

I'd have to say that looking back I can see that I made a lot of progress during this
period- I was starting to hit C1. But at the time I didn't really notice it - it still
felt like I had a long way to go. But people would tell me they thought I was getting
better and looking back over stuff I entered in Anki early on and stuff I struggled
with before that's now an essential part of my daily lexicon I can definitely see the

At the end of the year I was disappointed to have to leave so I was determined to
continue my French. I had a pretty good collection of shows in French at this point so
I didn't need TV5 Monde again. The remainder of my coursework was such that I didn't
have much left but I had to split it up between two semesters. So I filled up the extra
time with French electives. Took a writing class which was good - I didn't absolutely
need it but it gave me a lot of extra practice. We worked on all different kinds of
writing, working on essential grammar points and connectors along the way, which for me
was review. I could see that I had gotten a lot better in the past year - I could write
longer texts with ease and with way fewer mistakes. I also found Lang 8 and was pretty
good at updating regularly at the beginning. I continued watching series and I took
advantage of an sale: 100 euros worth of series on DVD for 50 euros (which is
going on again right now, BTW).

The next semester I took a literature course where we had quite a bit of writing to do
plus a masters level course in "Les Philosophes" where we read Voltaire, Montesquieu,
Diderot, etc and had a research paper. This work helped me still. I also got an
internship at the French consulate - my friend helped me write a cover letter and I had
a brief interview in French. I did revues de presses - assembling articles from various
news sources, both American and French, so I was reading all kinds of French news
regularly. I also edited videos and along with the French intern, we did a project
interviewing major Francophones in the area which required me to listen to the
interviews dozens of times and edit them down to the essential parts.

I applied to come back to France with the teaching program and I also started a local
job search. I was coming up empty on the job search until I just happened to do a
search for French and found a job in a bilingual office that worked with French
clients. I applied, wrote cover letters in both English and French and did interviews
in both English and French and I was hired. But I got accepted to go to France so
that's what I ended up doing :-)

In anticipation for the program, I had quite a bit of emails to write in French which I
found was getting easier, plus I had email and phone interviews with families to find
an au pair position, etc.

This time in France I didn't date so much, but rather started going out with For each sortie I was confronted with a group of French people, which
I'd say is more challenging that one-on-one. I went out to a few movies and could
understand most of the dialogue and I started going to a lot of improv. Imrpov can be
challenging at times - if the sketch is based on something that I don't understand very
well, isn't very well-structured I may be generally confused and find it hard to pick
out vocab (the more context you understand the easier it is to understand what's said).
And sometimes I understand everything but the punchline, which can be frustrating. But
most times I manage and it's quite fun.

I've continued with series - I find that keeping a sheet of paper next to me and
writing down new words and phrases helps keep me paying attention (if I let my
concentration drift just a little bit I start missing words). I can understand almost
everything in a dubbed series now - even stuff which was a little harder such as How I
Met Your Mother and Veronica Mars. I'm working on getting French series up to the same
level, such as Camera Cafe and Kaamelott, but I can tell that I'm understanding more
than I did before. Usually just listening to something for a second or third time is
all I need to get it all down (unless there's lots of vocab I don't understand). In
addition, my coworkers speak French all the time so I get a lot of listening and some
speaking practice in during our two hour lunches and I've been learning to understand
children (which can be hard sometimes).

I started feeling like I wasn't making progress again but that's bound to happen at
this level. For one thing it takes a lot more work to see basic progress. But also,
since I can function pretty well, find ways of expressing myself even if I don't know
the exact word or phrase, it's easy to get "stuck" unless I really push myself. Which
is what I'm trying to do now. In addition to studying, I've started to attempt to read
Le Canard Enchaine, a satirical weekly newspaper. I figure comedy and satire is often
the hardest to understand so it's a good exercise. I had dropped Lang 8 when things got
really busy again but I picked it up again. I immediately noticed that I had way fewer
mistakes so evidently something rubbed off. I started some language exchanges and I
found a guy who likes teaching me all kinds of idiomatic expressions. I have at least a
few more months and I'm hoping to get renewed for next year...

So in conclusion:
My journey was pretty long but that's not indicative of how much time it actually
takes. You first need whatever time it takes to get the core of the language in your
head. Doing this in high school takes a long time, less so in college but it's still an
eternity compared to self-study by someone who's disciplined enough. From then on it's
all a question of using the language - conversation, media, etc. I would say that
upper-division level classes (or the equivalent - where you use the language to learn
something else rather than just learn the language) are excellent for getting your
level up. They push you read critically and to write a lot more and on subjects that
aren't just like personal diary entries (which tends to be A to B-level writing unless
you tend to get really philosophical). Plus it helps all the grammar gel. If you're not
in France, I'd suggest trying to audit some upper-division/Masters level French classes
or if there's an Alliance Française nearby see if they have a rigorous elective-type
class where you have to read, write, give presentations, etc (not just
Intermediate/Advanced French). Also, France has some great FLE learning materials that
aren't commonly available in the US (and probably elsewhere). Writing guides and the
like which are graded for CEFR level. And of course, there's always coming to France :-
) It's hard to say where exactly I hit C1 since it's really blurred and as I said,
while in the thick of it I didn't notice the progress I made - I was just eventually
better. I'd say the more advanced I've gotten, the more I feel like there's still SO
MUCH separating me from a native speaker, so while you get more competant you don't
necessarily get more confident :-)

Edited by sctroyenne on 11 April 2012 at 10:31am

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Senior Member
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Speaks: English*, French
Studies: Spanish, Irish

 Message 4 of 336
11 April 2012 at 10:39am | IP Logged 
Can't get the links to work :-/ But here are the books I referenced:

Contemporary French society: La civilisation française en evolution II: Institutions et
culture depuis la Ve Republique (French Edition) by Ross Steele which wasn't my text
book for that class, but I can't find that one. Also, 60 Million Frenchmen Can't Be
Wrong by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow has a lot of the same information in
English (and the style is a bit more engaging).

Vocabulary: Vocabulaire expliqué du francais : Niveau intermédiaire (I'd actually say
intermediate-advanced, they don't have an advanced book but the content is similar to
others that are marked as advanced)

Grammar: Grammaire Expliquee Du Francais (French Edition) (same as above - more

The same publishers also have this book which I haven't tried but which looks good:
Difficultes Expliquees Du Francais for English Speakers Textbook (Intermediate/Advanced
A2/B2) (French Edition)
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Studies: French

 Message 5 of 336
11 April 2012 at 5:47pm | IP Logged 
I am beginning to learn French and I find the information you post very useful thanks.
1 person has voted this message useful

Senior Member
United StatesRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 4079 days ago

739 posts - 1312 votes 
Speaks: English*, French
Studies: Spanish, Irish

 Message 6 of 336
11 April 2012 at 8:13pm | IP Logged 
Wednesday is the day the new Canard Enchaîné comes out (parait) and it's always
riche en or truffé d' idiomatic expressions, puns and the like - great
for the language learner. Not only is it linguistically a challenge, you also need to
stay up with French news to understand the references (and some of the references are
old so need to look some up). It's a satirical newspaper - kind of like if the Daily
Show or the Colbert Report were in written form (Les guignols de l'info would be a TV
equivalent). It can be quite caustique (bitingly sarcastic), especially today :-

The headline article and cartoon deal with the latest enjeu de campagne
(campaign debate): the issue of the cost of obtaining a driver's license. Le Canard
quite clearly takes the position that it's a silly issue the candidates brought up to
distract the public, especially youth voters who are most concerned with the cost of
licences, from the fact that no one knows how to fix the economic mess.

The headline:

"Surenchère de Le Pen, Hollande, Sarko, Mélenchon sur le permis: Le permis d’éconduire,
au moins, c'est gratuit !"

surenchère: word comes from the auction world - a higher bid. In a political
context it means each candidate makes even bolder promises than the last in an attempt
to "outbid" each other for the public's vote

éconduire: play on words for "permis de conduire" (driver's licence), a sort of
literary way to say kick someone out - I'd say it could maybe be translated as "show
someone out/the door" or to "ask someone to leave". It refers to an immigration policy
that pays a stipend to foreigners to leave the country voluntarily, accepting
restrictions on the ability to return.

The cartoon: "Permis de Promettre"
Sarkozy: "On aura son permis de conduire dans une pochette-surprise!"
Hollande: "Je baisserai le prix des pochettes-surprises!"
Mélenchon (the Front de Gauche candidate, reading the latest "sondage" or poll as he's
neck and neck for third place with Le Pen and Bayrou): "Les pochettes-surprises seront

pochette-surprise : literally a "surprise pocket" in English, a paper cone
filled with candy and little surprise objects given to children. The reference here
refers to an expression "avoir eu son permis de conduire dans une pochette-surprise"
which would be an equivalent to "get a driver's license out of a cereal box" (like a
toy) which signifies that someone is so astounded at someone's lack of driving ability
that they can't believe they managed to pass a driving test. I don't think it's being
used so much to signify that here just using a known expression to suggest that the
candidates are going to start promising to hand out driver's licenses like candy to win

A quote from the article:
"Las, entre ses [Sarkozy's] sorties de la route, ses virages ratés et ses dérapages
incontrôlés son permis de conduire les affaires de l'Etat est fort mal en points. Au
moment de le repasser, même s'il se dit sûr de l'avoir, il serait sage, sans aucun
doute, qu'il songe aussi à réviser le code de la déroute."

In the final paragraph of a very sarcastic article, the author uses a lot of driving
imagery to describe the failures of Sarkozy's first term or mandat.

conduire les affaires de l'Etat has "permis de" tacked on as a play on an

fort mal en points: The French lose points on their licenses for each
infraction, so it's saying that he has very few points left on his figurative

le code de la déroute: play on words on "code de route" the driver's code.
Déroute means loss/failure/rout, so in suggesting that Sarkozy should think about
"studying" the code, he should accept the strong possibility of loosing the election
(as the polls have suggested that Hollande will win pretty decisively against him in
the second tour).

Edited by sctroyenne on 11 April 2012 at 10:13pm

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Senior Member
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Speaks: English*, French
Studies: Spanish, Irish

 Message 7 of 336
13 April 2012 at 7:25pm | IP Logged 
My contract finishes on April 30th but there's a two week holiday starting today, so
I'm effectively done. To save money I won't be travelling this vacation period as I did
during all the others and it looks like I won't have any work to do for my au pair
family as they'll be mostly gone as well. So other than trying to get private students,
I have nothing to do. Which means time for an intensive language learning holiday! I
welcome any advice on how to structure large blocks of time for language learning.

Working on writing up my reflections on English instruction in France based on my
experiences for Lang-8. I'm really taking my time the way I would with a graded
assignment for a class (not a French class where it's often easy to get an "A" for
effort) to make sure it's the best quality I can come up with, using a thesaurus and
going over it to see if I can vary my sentence structure and improve my style a bit.

I have the first season of Kaamelott plus a transcript so I decided I should make
understanding the whole thing my next goal for media (since as I said I can understand
almost 100% of a dubbed series now). It's a comedy with broken into short episodes of a
few minutes each (a popular format here with the newest being Bref, which clocks in
under two minutes of fast speech per episode). There is typically more than one "act"
in each short episode so the pace is quite quick as is the speech. Tried my hand at
transcribing a bit. Had to slow it down one click using VLC to avoid having to pause
and repeat dozens of times. I got the majority of most lines, a few I couldn't make out
anything at all (sometimes due to new vocabulary sometimes due to not being able to
distinguish the sounds), and occasionally I'd get it 100%. So overall I'd say my
comprehension is at about 80-85% (and what I don't understand rarely leads to not
understanding the plot - but I do miss jokes). Hopefully this exercise will get that

Some new vocab and expressions:
être marron - to be stuck/trapped
être comme cul et chemise: said for two people who very close, inseperable (also:
copain comme cochon)
quelqu'un est "une armoire en glace": built like a tank
vous êtes quittes maintenant: even (as in all debts have been paid)
piquer une crise: to freak out/to fly off the handle

Irish: My afternoon classes were cancelled yesterday so headed back to Paris and
browsed a bit in the language annex of Gilbert Jeune bookstore (a great place to check
out - it's right on Place Saint Michel - the language annex is the building with the
yellow awnings on the right if you're facing the fountain). They actually had a small
section for Irish where I picked up used copies of a short guide by Assimil and a "My
First Irish Dictionary" by Collins. It's for children but it was cheap and looked
pretty good. No help on pronunciation though...

Spanish: Dug out my iPod shuffle and loaded a bunch of audio onto it. Listened
to the audio for Easy Spanish Reader - the story of Enrique y Maria - during my
commute. Towards the end (after almost an hour) my concentration started slipping a
lot. I've been meaning to do Michel Thomas a couple of days now and didn't get around
to it so I'll be making that a priority.
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Studies: Spanish

 Message 8 of 336
13 April 2012 at 7:57pm | IP Logged 
Thanks for the detailed account of your French learning process, very enlightening.

I just read your explanation of the canard's article and I'm impressed, your really nailed it, getting all the puns and allusions.

Bonne continuation.

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