Je veux faire la causette!
May 19, 2011 7:53 PM   Subscribe

What are some resources that are inexpensive or free for improving my French from Canadian public school level to functional?

Inexpensive evening classes start in September, in my city, but in the meantime I need to go from basic vocabulary and grammar that lets me get things in stores, to polite small talk.

I'm having trouble making the jump from cereal box french, to actually communicating with french speakers on subjects more complicated than "Donnez-moi un coke avec les frites" or "Ou rue Antoine? C'est gauche ou droite?"Similarly my reading comprehension lets me figure out the main ideas of articles in a newspaper but I just get the jist, not every word. I also understand a lot more than I can produce.

I'm broke, I have all the time I'm not working a standard 9-5 to this project. I can listen to french radio, but long streams of it tend to sound like "waahwaah mwah rrraah avec mwaah waah, c'est la. Parceque wah Jean wahh rrrah." I tune out English speakers at the best of times, so making something meaningful out of large blocks of context free spoken french is something I need to figure out the trick to.

I read this question and this general question was a good start, but I want to make a jump not from no or little french to some french, but from some french to lots of french.

As well as resources, some useful advice could include how you studied to become fluent in any second language, for example was it a matter of flash cards or concentrating on a particular sort of media?
posted by Phalene to Education (8 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a fan of the podcast Coffeebreak French. They tend to deal with concrete subjects that will help people traveling in the Francophone world, but I find it a pretty great refresher for my two years of college French. You're not going to become fluent, but you'll get some grammatical flourishes and maybe remember some vocabulary to use.
posted by Sara C. at 8:15 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

People on metafilter have recommended Livemocha to me and others a bunch of times, but I haven't tried it yet.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:21 PM on May 19, 2011

Ooh, I've just started using Livemocha and it's pretty cool! You sign up for their free self-directed courses, and part of what you do in the classes is submit exercises that get reviewed by native speakers (both written and spoken). For the language I'm learning there are only four course levels and the first couple would likely be too basic for you, but maybe if you jumped into the middle of the course sequence you'd find it valuable to get native-speaker input on your written and spoken production. Perhaps more usefully for you, you can also friend people Facebook-style and chat with them (again, both written or spoken, I believe) to improve your communication. I don't think Livemocha is likely to be a complete solution for attaining fluency, but I do think it has the potential to be valuable if you make the most of it.

I find listening to the radio difficult even in English sometimes. What about watching movies or TV shows in French? There are several benefits to a movie over the radio: it's easier to piece together what's going on thanks to the visual context; it's generally more entertaining; the language you'll be exposed to is more likely to resemble the language of real life (what do you say at the corner store? to the receptionist at the doctor's office? to your overbearing grandmother? these things just don't come up during the news or interviews with politicians). When I took a class in advanced oral communication (in French) we watched a lot of movies.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:51 PM on May 19, 2011

Getting out and talking to people who are a little more fluent than you is the best. I just finished a class that was difficult for me: it was a French -conversation- class and damned if doing a bunch of conversation isn't the ticket to being able to reel off coherent paragraphs with decent grammar. A few of the oldsters in the class are going to stick with it, forming an informal conversation group.

Next best in terms of affordability: immerse yourself in a small French village and let people know you appreciate their corrections when you err. French people seem to like that a lot, and you meet a lot of people with occupation-specific vocabulary. I learned "Ĺ“nologue" from a winemaker and if you trot that one out - just knowing one counts - you get valuable points redeemable for more attention from other winemakers.
posted by jet_silver at 8:52 PM on May 19, 2011

Re listening to radio vs. whatever else - I believe there's a News In Slow French podcast out there, as well. Which can be a good transition to better listening comprehension, which will push you towards more French radio listening.
posted by Sara C. at 8:56 PM on May 19, 2011

Tons and tons of free french programs there. I myself finally got to watch the last season of Star Trek Voyager and find out how it ends, and I improved my french comprehension at the same time. :-) I find that speech in hour long programs tend to be more evenly paced, whereas most half hour programs are a bit quicker.

Good luck!
posted by Homo economicus at 8:58 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the things that most advanced my Japanese from "kinda crappy" to "able to successfully do a job interview" was huge piles of flash cards (I used computer-based SRS programs), and a conversation partner. Having someone talk to me every week for a few hours in Japanese mixed with the increase in vocab (I just got a list based off of a test rubric) really helped me actually be able to use the language. Talking is so much better than listening to the radio because 1) you can ask people to repeat things, 2) you have to form sentences of your own to converse, 3) your language partner can correct you or make comments about little quirks in your speech.
posted by that girl at 4:02 AM on May 20, 2011

Read news, every single day.
In my youth, in France, I had witnessed how a Spanish guy learned French by reading newspapers every morning and then living in French during the rest of the day.
That's what I have done for years to learn English.
It's on the Internet. It's free. It's interesting. Since you already know the context, the meaning is easy to get. Each time you stumble on a new word, look for it. Years ago, I went to a dictionary. Nowadays on Firefox or Chrome I just select the word then right click and "search Google for".
Within a few years I graduated from news to novels and Scientific American, and from television to movies and conversations.
As for speaking more fluently, the only way I know of is immersion. Reading and listening is not enough: you have to hear yourself speak for words to enter your speaking vocabulary.
Montreal is at the same time the best and the worst place to learn French or English. The best: the other language is everywhere: people, newsmedia, entertainment, stores. The worst: too many people respond in French when they hear my accent. And I bet they respond in English when they hear you speak French. What you can do (and I still do) is to ask them to speak French: if someone respond in English, just say that you want to practice your French. It works.
My English is still not up to par with my French and may never be. I bet you can find several mistakes in these lines. But I can live in English. I find that learning a language works better for me when it is like eating well or keeping in shape: part of my daily routine.
Bonne chance.
posted by bru at 6:50 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

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