Best method(s) for learning French as an adult?
April 19, 2015 10:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm a Canadian in Western Canada who is interested in French, but I don't know where to begin or what is the best way to go about it.

I didn't really take to French during my mandatory French language classes in elementary school, so I've sort of avoided it for the past 10+ years. I'm regretting that choice right now, because I'm finally seeing how knowing French can really help me pursue my career goals (I've also really gotten into French culture during the past 3 years). I live in Canada, so there are probably lots of resources I can use to learn the language.

I'm not much of an autodidact and I don't think plopping myself down with the Rosetta Stone would work for me. I'd probably need to be introduced to the language in a formal setting. My city has an Alliance Francaise and I was thinking of singing up a starting their lessons in the summer. I know I could probably also take French classes at a local university, but I wouldn't want to have my "academic record" damaged by low grades if I don't do well (I'd like to go to grad school in the near future, so I definitely wouldn't want that on there). Are there any other places/ways of learning that I'm not thinking about?
posted by modesty.blaise to Education (8 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Could you just audit a university course?
posted by mermaidcafe at 10:43 AM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been learning French for about a year and a half now. Like you I'm Canadian so I had mandatory French classes up until grade 9, but that was 20 years ago. Here's what's been useful for me:
1. Extreme dedication. I spend at least 30 minutes every day doing something in French and often more. That includes reading, watching tv, listening to the radio, going over vocabulary, talking to myself, translating stuff I hear, talking to people when I can.
2. Duolingo. I never finished the tree, but it helped get me past the A1 CEFR level. That's the common European framework. It goes from A1-C2.
3. Took an intensive 3 week French immersion course in Quebec. These are offered all over Canada and even some colleges in the US.
4. Took classes at the local alliance francaise. When I started I tested at level A2.4. That was after learning for about 8 months. Six months later I've tested at B1.1.

Other resources that have helped outside of class are lingvist.io. It's a really cool language learning site that helps you learn vocabulary based on some sort of algorithm. I'm up to 4500 words since November. They also have levelled reading and audio. I personally think its better than duolingo. The book fluent forever was also useful for self study techniques. There are also websites where you can trade instruction. So, you talk to someone in English for half an hour and then they talk with you in French. The most popular seems to be italki. I haven't tried this yet, but I'm planning to.

Beyond all this, though, I think the two most important things are to be realistic about what you can accomplish, and to practice everyday. Despite various claims, there is no fast way to learn a language as an adult outside of complete immersion. Rather than looking for the perfect way, (believe me, I've been there) just start doing it. You'll be amazed at how much you learn.
posted by trigger at 11:47 AM on April 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


Hire a private tutor. They can be found on craigslist; if there are none in your area, take skype lessons.

I know you say you don't think the autodidact way is for you, but you should try the now free Basic French course from FSI. It's very important when you're starting out to get clear on the sounds of the language and be able to produce them. This course is audio drills and repetitions based. It's basically hours and hours of aural/verbal training, and will get you to see past the written language, which at first is somewhat deceptive for English speakers. Check out the focused phonology unit too.
posted by bertran at 12:14 PM on April 19, 2015


I took night classes at a local college. If you have a community college near you pick up the Continuing Education catalog. Your local school board might also have a continuing ed catalog that might offer classes for general interest.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:54 PM on April 19, 2015


What is your French starting point? You could try reading the cbc or entertainment news online in French.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:59 PM on April 19, 2015


Beyond all this, though, I think the two most important things are to be realistic about what you can accomplish, and to practice everyday. Despite various claims, there is no fast way to learn a language as an adult outside of complete immersion. Rather than looking for the perfect way, (believe me, I've been there) just start doing it. You'll be amazed at how much you learn.'

Oh yes, definitely! I sort of think that it would be something interesting (and useful) to learn. In terms of using it for my career, I work in a bilingual school so I was thinking more along the lines of using it to interact with the kids in the French program and talking to them in French, using it to make me better able to find French resources, etc. I highly doubt that I'll ever get fluent enough in French to really work for the Federal Government or anything!
posted by modesty.blaise at 4:07 PM on April 19, 2015


I started learning french 1.5 years ago, in Australia, then working for a bit in France in an English-speaking job, and now back in Australia. I'm pretty fluent now, B2 level. For me, classes were always important because they give you a framework around which to structure your study: going to class every week would motivate me to do the homework, study the grammar a bit in my own time, and so forth. They were particularly useful when I was starting out. I took classes at Alliance Française, which were well designed and run.

However, with just classes alone it can be slow going. I also used Duolingo for vocabulary practice, these French tapes for a more detailed look at grammar and practice. I read a lot anyway, so early on (A1 level) I started on bilingual French-English books (e.g. From Amazon ), and then simple French books. If you can get French Tv/movies with French subtitles, those can be enormously helpful. Your Alliance Française probably has a extensive library of these you can borrow. If you already read the news, convert to the French news. There are a bunch of good French podcasts/ listening resources (News in slow French, Learn French by Podcast, RFI-Journal en français facile and A moi Paris were some of my favourites ).

One thing I didn't realise at the start is how important really active learning is for all aspects of the language - that means speaking, having conversations, even writing emails rather than just reading/listening. I would say, find a French class that is as small as possible, and in which you get opportunities to talk. Conversation exchanges, where you spend half the time talking in French the other in English, are also great.

If your budget, and schedule, can manage it, an immersion school for 2-4 weeks makes a world of difference. This was the key for me. A tutor can also be very handy, in person or over Skype, particularly with the pronunciation.

Good luck! I'll second what trigger said: be realistic, and put the time in. It might seem like you are not getting anywhere for a while but six months down the track you'll look back and be amazed at your progress.
posted by neatsocks at 8:36 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I know I could probably also take French classes at a local university, but I wouldn't want to have my "academic record" damaged by low grades if I don't do well (I'd like to go to grad school in the near future, so I definitely wouldn't want that on there).

Courses offered via the continuing education / adult education department of a university shouldn't count towards your academic record. I don't know where in Western Canada you are, but as an example my meagre Russian attempts through the U of C's cont ed program aren't even with the same student ID number as my regular U of C ID, and the Spanish I took at Mount Royal are clearly marked as not-for-credit. The cons are the courses cost money, and progress at a modest pace. The pro is that having to go and work on the language is the only thing I've ever found that gets me out of the house, as well as the structured nature.

If you do look into courses, check out how many levels are being offered (sometimes high levels of a language exist in theory but are not offered in practice). It's frustrating to learn a little and then get dumped on the street, so to speak. I'd ideally want to find a program where 100+ classroom hours are available.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:41 PM on April 20, 2015


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