French classes
August 9, 2022 7:27 AM   Subscribe

My university is offering intensive languages courses and I have finally decided to take the plunge to learn French properly. What level should I sign up for? I am in the UK so the levels here are based on the CEFR scale - A1, A2 (Beginner) B1, B2 (Intermediate) C1, C2 (Advanced). I can read contemporary French novels comfortably and understand about 50-90% of films/tv shows but my speaking skills are limited (I can't think in French) and my writing skills are nonexistent. Does it make sense to sign up for an A1 beginners class?

I really do not want to start at A1, these courses are expensive and I do not want to be bored reading passages about "My trip to the South of France" or "Meet my family" BUT it is not like I can join an intermediate class either. Sigh.

I tried iTalki and Preply. They did not work for me, I found my classes very unstructured.

Any tips on learning to write French will be appreciated as well!
posted by bigyellowtaxi to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: PS: I did two online tests and scored C1 for reading twice and B1 and B2 for listening.
posted by bigyellowtaxi at 7:31 AM on August 9

Best answer: Is there a way you can get an assessment by a human? When I was signing up for classes at my local Alliance Française there was a short written and oral placement test. I was placed in B1.2 (I have a nice accent and good vocabulary but dreadful spoken grammar; can read YA books, BD, social media posts; can usually understand French TV if I turn on the French subtitles).

If your university doesn't offer a placement test/interview, you could always try getting an assessment from a different language school. (You could even do this at my aforementioned local AF! I didn't have to commit to signing up for a class before the assessment, and they do teach a lot of online classes so you could even plausibly be signing up for a class if you wanted to take one at wildly inconvenient GMT-5 hours. I suppose the nice thing to do would be to make a donation if you really don't intend to take a class.)
posted by mskyle at 7:43 AM on August 9

Best answer: Will the university test you when you sign up for the course? That would be the best way to gauge the level you need. Otherwise I'd be tempted to go for a higher level and commit to practising the weaker skills more in your own time. If you can read modern novels for pleasure you have a great foundation.

The above is especially true if the university will let you move between courses in the first few weeks. It would be worth finding out if they offer this.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:45 AM on August 9

Best answer: I agree that you should try to speak with someone at the university about which class you should enroll in, but you definitely shouldn't enroll in level A1. You would be bored out of your skull in level A1. My impulse is to say that you should go with B2, but that's just a guess. Someone at the university should be able to help you figure out if the placement tests you took align with the expectations of their classes.

Source: I'm an academic advisor who helps students enroll language classes, but I'm in a really different system.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:59 AM on August 9 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not familiar with the CEFR scale but I would sign up for intermediate if there isn't a description of what exactly the levels mean, or you can't get a human evaluation (which I agree would be best). My French is pretty similar to what you describe (maybe worse in comprehension and better in writing) and intermediate classes have been a suitable level for me in the past (in Canada, where most people have beginner-level or higher French). It's very normal for comprehension skills to be higher than speaking/writing and the instructor should be able to accommodate a range of abilities, to some degree.
posted by randomnity at 8:00 AM on August 9

Best answer: I'd go with B1/2 as well, but would also suggest some sort of evaluation, if possible. A1 is really for complete beginners, and you will be bored out of your mind.

From my own experience, your written and spoken French may be better than you think - if you have been reading novels, and watching films/tv then there's a certain amount of passive learning that takes place. You may not be able to think in French, but you probably have a much better idea for what "sounds" right than most people, and just need practice using it.
posted by scorbet at 8:29 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I suggest that it' good to place yourself in a context slightly above your competencies. For education, listening with comprehension is the benchmark skill. Perhaps a B2-level course so you have to stretch yourself to listen but not so much that you're so underwater you can't keep up. This is a good, small way to simulate immersion (which is by far the best way to learn).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:07 AM on August 9

Best answer: You need a placement test. You will *die of boredom* in an A1 class.

If no placement class is available, go for B2. You'll catch up in speaking pretty quickly because you'll already have more of a feel for the language and its structures than your fellow students, though you'll need to do extra work to catch up on the grammar basics.
posted by urbanlenny at 9:08 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm at the same level, maybe a little better at listening (zero grammar when writing or speaking, yay!) and I was a solid B.2.1 on the Alliance Française scale last I checked.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 9:14 AM on August 9

Best answer: Based on my experience, I strongly disagree that A1 would be a waste. I came to college with very strong reading skills in German. So strong that I was advised to start in the intermediate level despite very poor speaking skills. My listening was not as bad as my speaking, but not nearly as good as my reading. I was destroyed by the intermediate class. I dropped and started again in the beginner class the next semester. While the written components were easy and somewhat repetitive, the opportunity to learn to speak from the basic level was essential to my eventual mastery.
posted by hworth at 11:03 AM on August 9

Best answer: I took French from grade 7 through 13 and got all As. But couldn’t speak a word. Twenty-five years later, moved to France and registered for French as a second language at the University of Strasbourg - level B1 - 5 days a week for 2 semesters. The conversation class I did on my own once a week with a native French speaker was the key for me to finally be able to speak French. Now that I’m back home, I watch French television. If you have access to TV5 Monde, it’s a great source of high quality programming.
posted by strasbourg at 4:53 PM on August 9

Best answer: I think B1 would probably be a good fit if you are unsure. But talk to the university and see whether they can assess you first, or whether you have the option to change classes if it becomes clear that it's too easy or challenging.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 5:51 PM on August 9

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. My university does not offer placements tests (!) for the intensive courses for some reason so I signed up for the B2 class. I have bought the Communication progressive du français series (the A1 and A2-B1 books) to work on my speaking skills.
posted by bigyellowtaxi at 5:49 AM on August 14

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