Scrambling to learn French in 10 weeks --
September 4, 2019 3:42 PM   Subscribe

What are the best books/podcasts/vocab lists/online resources/whatever to learn as much practical French as possible in 10 weeks? Difficulty level: preparing to stay in Paris for a week, but happy if I only make a moderate ass of myself.

I'm mainly interested in learning things like how to interact with staff at a restaurant or in a store, how to ask where to find the frozen scallops at Picard, how to find the correct subway, being able to talk about about myself, where I live, what I do, etc. Speaking is most important to me, but I know there's only a limited amount I can do in 10 weeks, so my expectations are moderate. I'm happy to learn to read as well though I'm okay with using Google Translate as needed.

Particularly interested in:
-A good grammar book so I can learn to conjugate verbs properly
-Lists of words and phrases that I can pair with Anki
-Audible resources so I can practice how things sound
-Websites like SpanishDict

Not interested in:
Duolingo or other apps

Work from home, so I can be pretty flexible and spend a good deal of time on this project
Native English speaker, and I can kinda get around with Spanish but I'm not by any means fluent

Merci beaucoup!
posted by miltthetank to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
If you really want to conjugate verbs you need a Bescherelle. Perversely, the verbs you use most often are "être", "aller" and "avoir" which are insanely irregular, but you can pick up the pattern for the -er, -ir and -re verbs fairly quickly. Ignore the future tense, and just say "je vais" plus the infinitive. Completely blow off the passé simple and stick to the passé composé. "J'ai mangé du poisson pourri et je vais vomir." And so on.
posted by zadcat at 4:48 PM on September 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

-Audible resources so I can practice how things sound

Journal en français facile by Radio France International might be worth checking out. I have this in my regular podcast subscriptions to help bolster my shitty French. It's a brief (10 minute) broadcast of the news of the day, geared toward non-native French speakers, read in plainer language and at a slower cadence than a regular French news broadcast would.

They're also fully transcribed if you want to follow along.

Episodes are pushed out daily at 8:00 pm GMT. If you're caught up on the top global headlines of the day (particularly the mainstream headlines about European news), you'll have good context for what they're talking about.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:04 PM on September 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Communicating in French demands a pretty high level of accurate pronunciation — moreso than any other language I’ve studied. Because of this I recommend study methods where the majority of your time is spent listening and speaking, rather than reading and writing. The Assimil self-study book+CD set worked great for me as a new French learner. Sanjoy Mahajan wrote a nice blog post about the Assimil method.

If you do at least one lesson a day, you can get to a reasonable level of French for traveling within 10 weeks. However, I’ll warn you from experience that many people you meet in Paris will quickly switch to English, so you may not get many chances to use your French as you’d like, unless you find someone more patient who is willing to help you practice. Using basic ettiquette (like saying “bonjour, monsieur” or “bonjour, madame” when entering a shop) will always be appreciated, though.

If you like podcasts, Coffee Break French is another one. It starts at a very basic beginner level, while le Journal en français facile is more intermediate/advanced.
posted by mbrubeck at 5:46 PM on September 4, 2019

A generation of Canadian children learned French watching Sol the weird hobo clown bumble around on a miniseries called Parlez-Moi. Here are some situations that might be relevant to your trip:
Restaurant & Telephone
Art Class & Grocery Store
Hotel & Airport
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:50 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

French in Action! Yale Romantic Languages Prof. Pierre Capretz is the inventor of the Capretz method, an immersion method, and he helped create a 52-episode (x30 minute) series of shows which are basically half narrative, and half classroom. I don't think I exaggerate when I say they are actually charming.

10 weeks is 70 days; watching the first, say, 30 of these will lay some serious groundwork on your education francaise, and you have more than enough time to enjoy 1 or 2 per day.

If you're in the US or Canada, you can view them through the website here. Previously on the blue here, and Prof. Capretz memorial here.

Bon Courage et Bonne Chance! Passez des bons vacances!
posted by Sunburnt at 5:59 PM on September 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

I have heard in France it goes a long way just to try to speak their beautiful language, and they will meet you half way.
posted by nickggully at 6:22 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

This book, The Ultimate French Review and Practice, was instrumental in my own preparation to be in France for a while (almost 15 years ago, but it still holds up).

Also, get into some passive learning tools such as podcasts or livestreams of France Info. If you're in the habit of having a tv show or movie on in the background while you do chores, put on French subtitles and/or the dubbed soundtrack in French. Again, it was 15 years ago, but I shocked myself by how much conversational French I learned from dubbed episodes of Sex and the City. And I only had it on if I was folding laundry or cleaning the kitchen.
posted by witchen at 6:41 PM on September 4, 2019

Pimsleur is a similar technique to Assimil it sounds like. It's a 30 minute daily audio lesson that focuses on important grammar and vocabulary; I just listened to part of the 60th episode, which has some small talk (eg the weather, what's it like where you are from etc), directions and getting lost and so on. It's expensive, but might be available from your local library or ... other means.

Zadcat has good recommendations for focusing on verbs. I recommend focusing on the first person singular je form and the second person plural vous forms, since that enables you to talk about what you are doing (wanting, feeling) and politely ask someone else what they are doing (if they can do something, etc.)

On the vocab side of things, I recommend downplaying food/restaurant vocab except for the basics (like the kinds of drinks you usually order), especially if you will have data when you're there. Not only is there just an incredible amount of animals and plants and techniques, but it doesn't always makes sense when translated - Google Translate might let you know that a dish is St. James' Shells, but you actually need another source to know that this is very specifically poached scallops on mushrooms broiled with cheese.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:59 PM on September 4, 2019

I absolutely agree with mbrubeck about the particular importance of learninng good pronunciation in French. I'm luke-warm about the assimil courses for this purpose because though they give a central place to audio of dialogs, they do not have any audio designed for listening and speaking response drills. The courses I found cannot be beat for learning the French sound system -- both active and passive -- are those now freely available by the Foreign Service Institute. I would advise working through the lessons of their very thorough Introduction to French Phonology course before you make any other move. You should be able to complete the ten lessons fairly quickly. If you had more time, you could then move to their massive French Basic course. However, for those in more of a hurry they happily have a French Fast course, which should be right up your alley because it is based on a sequence of dialogs for practical everyday situations.

I've used the French in Action course mentioned above and found it excellent and entertaining but I would caution first that it is really a full year college course and second that the meat of it is in the audio-based exercises in the accompanying workbooks; audio for which is no longer available free online and is rather costly to purchase from the Yale Press. That said, by all means watch the videos, but realize they are only part of the larger whole of the course. (The text-book part of the course has transcriptions of the dialogs from the videos which would enhance their worth even without the grammar-focused workbooks because studying them will help you make the connections between the writing system and the sound system.)

Also, I have used the Ultimate French Review book which is good as far as it goes. And you are right to want to learn your conjugations. But be aware that knowing their written form which is what the UFR offers goes much less far towards being able to recognize or use them when spoken than in Spanish, say. Embedded in the longer FSI Basic course I mentioned above is audio drill practice of verb forms and it might make sense to skim the pdf file of the text of the course to find the verb drills and then just practice with the audio of those. The French in Action audio exercises also have very good coverage of verb form if you decide you can afford them.

Oh, just remembered there is a free French course from the U of Texas at Austin online that has a significant audio component including downloadable mp3s that could be a great resource for you. It includes an interactive verb conjugation tool. You have to browse around the site a bit to see how it's organized.

Finally, there is an older intro book called Cours de Langue et de Civilisation Françaises -- or the Blue Book -- which is good on the grammar but which you might find especially useful because it includes International Phonetic Alphabet transcriptions of all the vocabulary. Something that probably should be standard for written French courses. Learning ipa can really help clarify the for us initially obscure French sound system.

Have fun!
posted by bertran at 9:45 PM on September 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

"LE BLED " is a reference that's used by natives. I used it when I was a kid and there were lots of exercises in it, which were really helpful. Apparently there's an app, but I think that writing and reading using real paper is still a strong boost when you - or at leat, when I - try to memorize things.
posted by nicolin at 4:04 AM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I came to suggest Assimil, too. I actually think it’s pretty helpful for pronunciation if you do the exercises as designed and try to repeat what is said in all the dialogues.
posted by newsomz at 4:11 AM on September 5, 2019

Michel Thomas
News in Slow French
posted by umbú at 6:22 AM on September 5, 2019

Communicating in French demands a pretty high level of accurate pronunciation — moreso than any other language I’ve studied.

Learning ipa can really help clarify the for us initially obscure French sound system.

If you think you may want to study French in the long term, I would encourage you to be careful about your vowels and rely on IPA as recommended above -- relying on approximate "English spelled" pronounciation guides using spellings like uh, oo, ew is easier in the short term but can set up bad habits in the long term.

French has a lot of vowels, more than in Spanish (10-13 oral vowels, 3-4 nasal vowels, a number of diphthongs) and there are a number of frequent core words that differ solely based on the vowels. Take for example:
- de /də/ 'of'
- du /dy/ 'of the' (masculine singular)
- des /de/ 'some' or 'of the' (plural)
- dès /dɛ/ 'as soon as'
- doux /du/ 'sweet'
(NB the last two are less common than the first three, which occur all the time in French)

- dessus /dəsy/ 'on top' vs.
- dessous /dəsu/ 'on bottom'
(This pair drives me crazy, even though I am fortunate enough to speak another language -- Mandarin Chinese-- that has /y/ so I generally don't have problems with it.)
posted by andrewesque at 9:44 AM on September 5, 2019

Is there a show you've binge watched in English (maybe more than once)? Get the French version (maybe DVD's from France) and watch it with French audio and subtitles.
posted by dripdripdrop at 12:34 PM on September 5, 2019

For the record, I took a look back at the Blue Book that I mentioned in my comment, and I was wrong to write that *all* the vocabulary was given also in IPA. IPA is used there, rather, strategically with some words and phrases.

Some French-English dictionaries do give the IPA for all entries; the one I have that does is an old edition of the Collins Pocket French Dictionary. It's certainly a feature to look for when shopping for dictionaries.

If you do want to get deeper into French pronunciation, there's a not-too-long book on the topic called French Phonetics by one Trudie Maria Booth that I can recommend; she both explains how IPA works and uses it illustratively throughout.
posted by bertran at 12:05 AM on September 7, 2019

I'm back again to report that someone has recently posted videos on youtube of all the lessons in the Cours de Langue et de Civilisation Françaises; the videos scroll through all the text of the lessons accompanied by simultaneous audio of recitation of the text. This is a great resource now for verbs, for other basic grammar and for vocabulary. Volume 1 of the videos, and volume 2.
posted by bertran at 9:18 PM on September 7, 2019

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