Best way to learn French in my spare time?
November 23, 2012 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Hi everyone, I am a 24 y/o English native about to start a PhD in London. During the next 3 years, I would very much like to begin learning French alongside my doctoral studies, and I am interested in finding out the most effective and efficient way of going about this. Realistically I will probably be able and willing to dedicate between one and two hours a day to studying French. I am interested in learning to both speak and write the language in equal measure. Any advice is much appreciated.
posted by FuckingAwesome to Education (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
If you happen to be at a University of London school, King's has a language school that UoL students can attend for a discount.
posted by corvine at 9:51 AM on November 23, 2012

(UoL schools are basically everything but Imperial)
posted by corvine at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2012

Would it be difficult for you to hop across the channel for a few days here and there? Getting immersed in the language is always the most effective and efficient way to learn.
posted by empath at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2012

I'll be at Greenwich (not UoL as far as I'm aware?)
posted by FuckingAwesome at 10:00 AM on November 23, 2012

If you're willing to fork out the money for a language school, I highly recommend the Alliance Francaise (near Baker Street). You can do 2.5 hours a week or twice a week if you prefer, and I've found it a much higher quality than the university-based language classes that I've attended before.
posted by pikeandshield at 10:17 AM on November 23, 2012

The hobbies I managed to keep when I did my PhD were those that had very specific time allocated to them - classes I went to or friends I met up with on a specific schedule to do specific things. Language classes or a conversation group might be a good idea.

Prepare yourself for the idea that your PhD will take more mental energy and time than you could possibly expect, especially if you are aiming to finish in 3 years.

One other advantage of classes is that most humanities PhD students find the process isolating and lonely, so seeing people at least a couple of times a week is a great idea.
posted by kadia_a at 10:20 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some suggestions:

Look for signs for swapping language tutoring, or put some up yourself-- usually this is just meeting up for a couple of hours a week to mutually practice languages with a native French speaker in exchange for helping them with English. Sometimes there are student groups or international student centers that will help with this. There may also be a study group specifically for students working on French skills.

Stream French radio as background music. Look up the lyrics for songs and go through them to help match the sounds and the words.

I would agree that a structured class will give you a firmer grounding in it, as well as providing a time that you will have to devote to your language skills.

Are there any hobbies you like? For example, there are many French cooking blogs; translating something that you are interested in is much more fun than textbooks ( though caveats about blog grammar apply...) Similarly, French-language YouTube videos for fashion or cars or another how-to.

If this is part of your coursework, tackling journal articles or even popular articles can be of great help. For example, for archaeology, there are subject-specific dictionaries between French and English. Even though my French isn't fantastic, I would read book reviews in my field in French more easily with the targeted vocabulary right there for me. Key words helped me get the gist of it.

And yes, immersion. Always immersion. Even a couple of weeks in France will do more to make you think in French and about French than any class. (When I lived in Italy, it was an amusing fact that the people dating Italians picked up Italian far faster than the rest of us-- obviously a happy by-product of amore, but conducting a friendship in another language could provide both need and confidence in your skills.)

Oh and get DVDs with French as the original language and with French subtitles. Having both really helped me place the sounds of pronunciation.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:33 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I sucked at French in elementary and high school, never took it in university, but then had to translate Rousseau as a philosophy PhD requirement. I worked through French For Reading on my own and was really surprised by how good at reading I got, so I'd recommend it. It's geared toward reading academic French (arts and sciences), though, not speaking it.
posted by Beardman at 11:12 AM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Rosetta Stone.
posted by Dansaman at 1:18 PM on November 23, 2012

Duolingo is free and claims to be as effective as Rosetta Stone. Might be a nice supplement. (And I like the teaching style and have been learning French on it regularly for months.)
posted by ansate at 5:20 PM on November 23, 2012

Immersion, talking to fluent speakers and well-taught, in-person classes are the best.

That said, Pimsleur I-IV are surprisingly good to get you started. Also, I agree that French For Reading is great, and I like News in Slow French, even though the concept screams to be lampooned in a comedy sketch. I like using the iphone flashcard app Cramberry to absorb verb conjugations and vocabulary.
posted by umbĂș at 7:16 PM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Take a look at the offerings at the Alliance Française in London. They offer intensive courses and longer, less intensive courses (once a week or twice a week). From what I hear, the quality of courses varies a lot, depending on the teacher you get, but they're well respected and have a lot of experience working with students at all levels. Plus you might meet some fellow students with whom you could practice informally outside of class.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:22 PM on November 23, 2012

Try Memrise.
posted by Philemon at 6:59 PM on November 24, 2012

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