How do I make the best of a trip to France?
June 30, 2010 2:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm studying abroad in France this fall. I want to learn the language. How do I prepare so that I can make the very best of it?

I'm going to be living with a host family throughout the fall, and I'll be taking French language courses throughout the semester.

I've taken a year of French in university, but I don't think I'm anywhere near ready for conversations that are more than "functional". I am sure that I will gain a whole lot of facility speaking the language while I'm there, but I don't want to spend too much time floundering before I learn to swim. I possess the confidence to speak with people even though I know very little, and I'm not afraid of embarrassing myself, but I'd really like to start off with a solid foundation.

I have two months. How do you guys recommend I prepare? I have a set of a thousand flashcards, I can use Anki, and I have a decent French textbook with an audio file library. How do you recommend I use these resources? I don't have access to French speakers (except maybe online), so I'll need to work with what I have. How do I build a solid foundation for conversation before I go?

Related: what do you recommend I do to make the best of my situation once in France? I won't be living in Paris, but in another city (I'd rather not say which specifically), so don't worry about city-specific advice. Thanks for all of your help!
posted by superiorchicken to Education (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Alright, let's get these out of the way:

live mocha

Foreign Language institute

Rosetta stone

Those are the big three that come up during these questions. If you look through the questions tagged with "language" you will find many good studying strategies.
posted by Think_Long at 2:17 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Before you go, try and focus on tools that build vocabulary and an understanding of sentence structure and that sort of thing, rather than tools that teach you whole phrases. Phrasebooks are useful to a limited extent for finding the train station or the bathroom, but if you don't know what the individual words mean, they won't do you much good in acquiring practical language skills that are useful for anything other than tourism.

Once you're there, avoid hanging out with Americans. In lots of study-abroad situations, you'll be lumped in with a whole bunch of English speakers, and it'll be tempting to hang out with them, since communication will be so much easier, but you'll only begin to gain any level of mastery if you're forced to interact with native French-speakers without anyone else's assistance. For a non-child learner, a year's worth of education isn't much, and you can only do so much prep in two months, so trying to struggle through in French will probably be frustrating, and you probably don't want to get your hopes up in thinking that any amount of effort will get you to fluency in a semester, but if you can force yourself to work at it, you'll definitely be able to get something out of the experience. Bonne chance!
posted by andrewpendleton at 2:28 PM on June 30, 2010

Nthing Rosetta Stone - it's expensive, but it's worthwhile. Perhaps also in the meantime, pick up one of those "just the basics" language books so you can at least learn how to ask for help, where things are, etc.
posted by Anima Mundi at 2:44 PM on June 30, 2010

Not sure where you live, but most large cities in the US have an Alliance Francais. You could continue taking classes through them. I've always found classes more helpful than podcasts or DVDs since they are closer to what you will experience when you are in France and forced to speak French. Yes the setups are staged and more predictable than real life situations, but you are forced to interact with others and have to do a bit more thinking on your feet. Perhaps you're more disciplined than I am, but I also find that I do better when I have a more structured learning environment (whether it be for language instruction or exercise) where I have paid good money and therefore am less likely to blow it off. If you don't want to pay, you can see if there are any French language meetups in your area. I don't think anything, even more interactive language tools like Rosetta Stone, replaces IRL conversations, no matter how basic they are or how much you have to struggle in the beginning.

On your own you could listen to French podcasts, rent DVDs of French movies, try reading French newspapers online. Studying vocabulary and verb conjugations would not go amiss either.
posted by kaybdc at 2:45 PM on June 30, 2010

I found that watching the news in French on a daily basis was helpful. It has a lot of place names and visual cues and the grammar is usually fairly standard. When I started out, I'd put on the closed captions so if there were words I missed hearing, I could look down and see them. Then when I was more comfortable, I turned the CCs off.

Living with a host family will really help you (when you get there) - when I did this I was living with a family that liked having loud contentious political conversations at dinner. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot about French politics from the viewpoint of a bunch of lefties.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:01 PM on June 30, 2010

The BBC has a helpful page on this sort of thing.

Good luck.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:03 PM on June 30, 2010

Personally, I think Rosetta Stone is a COMPLETE waste of money. I would strongly recommend The Michel Thomas Method. Don't let the toupee fool you; the late Monsieur Thomas was a linguist during WWII and saw some bad, bad shit fighting in the French Resistance.

Anyway, if you want to get comfortable speaking, and having more complex tenses or irregular structures become second nature ("je te l'ai donne'" but "je le lui ai donne'", etc.) the Michel Thomas CDs are the way to go. After you do the Michel Thomas, it's just a matter of learning vocab.
posted by holterbarbour at 4:26 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Speak as much as you can with French people, and in French. There will be other english speakers there. Don't become best friends with them because it'll be too easy to fall back to English. Speak french with anyone who doesn't speak English as much as you can.

I just got back from France, and my one big regret is that I could have taken so much more advantage of all the opportunities I had to speak french with french people.
posted by kjell at 4:54 PM on June 30, 2010

For listening/ speaking Pimsleur is good. The CDs are expensive, so see if your library has them.

Podcasts and newspapers are other good sources of foreign language material.
posted by oceano at 5:26 PM on June 30, 2010

When we were preparing to go Italy, we picked up both the Rosetta Stone and the Pimsleur tapes. Pimsleur builds conversation skills situationally, greetings, asking directions, making plans, ordering dinner, etc. Rosetta Stone just presents a bunch or random images and has you match nouns and verbs to the pictures.

We found the the Pimsleur course gave us the skills to get around and at least start conversations in Italian, even though we sometimes needed to resort to English for subtleties. We also found that people seemed pleased that we were making an effort to communicate as much as possible in Italian. The French have a reputation for not being as easily impressed.
posted by jimfl at 5:34 PM on June 30, 2010

Best answer: Watch some French movies. It's very good for getting a hang of understanding speech. Subtitles are okay, but remember that they reword things. There are a ton streaming on netflix -- try Paris, je t'aime.

FYI -- my advice as someone who studied abroad in France: trust your gut. Often you won't know exactly what someone said, but through context and gut-feeling you can guess. Go with it. :)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:25 PM on June 30, 2010

Watch the news, listen to French podcasts, and study VERBS. They're the foundation from which everything else flows. Get a Bescherelle and never let it leave your side.
posted by fso at 7:31 PM on June 30, 2010

Pimsleur is incredibly good at getting you fluent in pleasantaries, which is really useful for getting you confident enough to speak.

Other than that, I found Anki to be an invaluable back bone to my recent language studies. A basic grammar book would also be useful. The most important thing is to do something everyday.
posted by kjs4 at 8:36 PM on June 30, 2010

2nding the advice to avoid hanging around English speakers (assuming that's your mother tongue). You're in France! Speak French, make French friends, and do French things!
posted by !Jim at 8:39 PM on June 30, 2010

FrenchMe, from the MeFi Wiki, has some good resources.

Full blowing-my-own-horn: I put it together.
posted by djgh at 2:32 PM on July 1, 2010

In addition to French movies, I would start listening to French songs. Once you have the lyrics in your head, look up words you don't know to get a better sense of the meaning. I took French throughout high school and college, and when I moved to Lyon to teach English for a year, one of the most useful vocabulary sets I had were from songs. You'll pick up colloquial and commonly used expressions not taught in class, and since there are no pictures to focus attention as with movies, you'll learn to repeat the expressions more easily. It's also a great way to keep practicing once you return.

Voici qql de mes artistes préférées:

- Diams
- Mylene Farmer
- Indochine
- Leslie
- Fatal Bazooka (for comic relief)
- Yelle
posted by msk1985 at 7:46 AM on July 4, 2010

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