Best, quickest way to pass the intermediate language learner plateau?
June 7, 2018 5:19 PM   Subscribe

My employer uses a French screening test which you must pass to attain certain jobs. I am currently in the intermediate level. I would very much like to be in the high level. I can re-test this summer. What is the best way to spend my study time?

I found that most of the material I have is either very rudimentary (I know how to order food in a restaurant and small-talk with a co-worker about the weather!) or very dull and technical (“here is a three-page list of verbs in past subjunctive that you can memorize.”) That can’t be the best way, can it? So, should I be reading novels? If so, which ones? Should I be watching video? If so, which ones? Learning websites? What?

It would be very good for my career if I can get the higher ranking. Interview will be the completion of a written essay topic (last time, I had to write about what I did on my summer vacation, but that won’t be the same now) and a ten-minute conversational test with a superior. Accent doesn’t matter, although mine is good. Fluency and accuracy do matter.
posted by ficbot to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
After I failed a PhD test for basic French, I hired a native speaker to read novels with me one on one. It was money well spent. I passed on my next try.
posted by FencingGal at 5:41 PM on June 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Having a certain level of proficiency in French is also a requirement for my job with retests every few years. I find that it my fluency has slipped (and boy, does it slip after a couple years) the best thing is to find a native French speaker willing to meet with you a couple hours a week to just chat. Ideally it would be someone who also wants to practice their English so you can both profiter. If you live in even a moderately-sized city, you'll find someone out there willing to pair up with you for this.
posted by fso at 5:51 PM on June 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

+1 go native
That's what took me to the next level in French.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:37 PM on June 7, 2018

I am a languages teacher. Echoing the above, conversation is the way to improve. Also, watch French media. Get a French pen pal. Blog in French?

The key is to make it enjoyable and to do it regularly and often.

Space it out too- do some each day rather than marathon sessions.
posted by freethefeet at 7:14 PM on June 7, 2018

My language of choice is Spanish, so I don't have any specific content recommendations, but I am working on getting past that same plateau.

In addition to talking with native speakers, watching videos/TV shows/movies have been helpful for me, even more so if they have subtitles (either in English or the language you're learning - they're each helpful in different ways). I watch videos on YouTube about things I'm interested in that just happen to be in Spanish. I also listen to music/podcasts, read magazines and books and whatever other exposure I can get. I still study & practice the technical stuff because verb tenses are still what trip me up the most when speaking.
posted by Emmc325 at 7:32 PM on June 7, 2018

In addition to the conversation recommendations above, try out some dictées, which are a great way to improve your grammar in a practical way that also helps you to see patterns in actual examples. You can do the type where you type what someone says, or this kind where you make corrections to a text.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:38 PM on June 7, 2018

There are a few apps out there that will match you up with someone who wants to learn your language. So you spend sometime chatting in your native language and some time chatting in theirs. HelloTalk is one I used. It’s hit or miss depending on who you get, but you can easily switch partners. I would be very specific in telling them what you want help with, so they’re not letting errors slide out of politeness, if you’re looking for perfection.
posted by greermahoney at 7:55 PM on June 7, 2018

I like listening to pimsleur, michel thomas, and news in slow french.
posted by umbú at 7:56 PM on June 7, 2018

Actually, if your primary goal for now is to pass that test, I would suggest specific test prep instead of reading novels. Novels and TV shows are great in the long run, and I'm not saying don't spend time on them because they help you increase reading and listening fluency, but if you have a test to pass, focus on the potential items of the test. If it's a standardized one, there should be a prep book.

Also, if your test has a speaking portion, practice speaking. If you don't have access to a native speaker, speak French to the TV, the cat, the wall. It doesn't matter, but speaking fluency increases by speaking, period.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 11:27 PM on June 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

For me, I go to a “cine classe”. A small group of us watch a film - ideally one subtitled in French (now available for most French language content on Netflix by the way). Then our teacher moderates some follow up sessions where we talk about what we’ve seen. There is nothing like having to talk about a film to test out whether we understood it - and are able to describe what we feel about it. It is also culturally interesting and great for teaching unusual vocabulary (as of this week I know the French for “combine harvester”). Suggest you look for such a group or help establish one.
posted by rongorongo at 1:48 AM on June 8, 2018

French for reading is a worthwhile book as well. It’s made for grad students studying for a proficiency exam. I like the way the answers are on the other side of the page, so you just cover them up until you are ready to check them.
posted by umbú at 5:44 AM on June 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why did you fail last time? Do you know? You should practice writing that exact kind of essay. You should also try to identify what areas, conversationally, you are weak in and practice those specifically in addition to more general practice. Conversation won’t help you if you were having trouble with one specific thing and it never comes up.

I would pay an experienced French tutor to do a conversational test with you and let you know where you are weak. Ditto with the essay, although it may be easier for you to self grade an essay than a conversation.

You should also see if there is language learning software out there that will help you identify your weaknesses. I have done test prep that automatically does this, so there might be some out there for French. You can also look for flashcards or flashcards systems that will show you the cards that you miss more frequently. This is not going to be a substitute for putting this information to work and applying it in the context of essay writing and speech, but it can help you reinforce the basics. You may, in fact, have to do a substantial amount of dull memorization. If you figure out what exactly you’re struggling with, at least it will be dull memorization of the things that you really need to learn.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:36 AM on June 8, 2018

Also, the summer is basically now. You really need to be studying specifically the things that you need to know for this exam. I am sure that more general practice and immersion is helpful, but you have to be strategic about this, and that starts with identifying your weakest area so that you can focus on getting them up to par on time for your reexamination.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2018

Response by poster: Rock’em: I didn’t ‘fail’ the test last time. I passed it at level 2 proficiency and can apply for jobs which require that. I want jobs at level III though because they are less competitive (since fewer people have that proficiency level). I remember that last time, I didn’t feel like they had caught me on my best day. I had not found the writing section very difficult, but knew the conversation part wasn’t my best.
posted by ficbot at 11:35 AM on June 8, 2018

Okay! My advice is still the same. Figure out what you’re weak in and concentrate on that, because you have a relatively short amount of time to improve. You may find that you simply need more practice, or you may find that you’re particularly weak in specific areas. Either way, a blunt assessment of your own performance is the place you should start. Good luck!
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:29 PM on June 8, 2018

Hi! I teach English to non-native speakers and from my many years of experience I can tell you that the one thing guaranteed to get you over the intermediate hump is living in a French-speaking country and speaking only French for as long as possible. There are exchange programs for adults out there, which would place you with a French family and enroll you in an intensive course. I only know about the English ones, but I'm sure you can find something if you Google.

If you have the money and the vacation time ( I think minimum 2 weeks), this is by far the best option. Lessons with a native speaker will help you, but you will progress much slower. If you really want to improve your French quickly, what you need is full immersion.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 12:15 AM on June 10, 2018

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