30 Days of Me: Bel's Day 9

Posted by Bel. The time is 2.33pm here in Wellington NZ

Something you're proud of in the last few days

AKA Bel's rant (and tips) about learning French language

My French lesson last week was a disaster. I was stressed out and tired by the time I got there, and switching over to another language for a two and half hour class after a full day's work is usually draining enough. Then it turned out we had a different teacher, as our usual prof Luc was away because his baby had been born the day before.

This stand-in had only ever taught once before. The day before. To children. I have no doubts that she was qualified and intelligent and all, but she was yet to find her confidence in the classroom, or to discern what techniques work well.

As a result, she spoke quickly - too quickly - meaning most of her instruction was lost on us. Also, she was brutal about forcing us to speak only en francaise, even when we struggled to find the vocab or syntax to ask her questions because we couldn't understand.

We're used to an immersion environment, but we're also used to being able to say, "Wait, attend. So this means that with être the past participle agrees, but with avoir, non?", or whatever. That didn't fly with this lady. She acted as if it pained her physically to hear English spoken in the room, ignoring the fact that you'd finally cracked through your confusion and summed up the courage to ask the question. (I don't care how long you've been working with a group of people, it's still somewhat embarrassing to be the first person to admit you don't get it.)

The absolute worst of it was when she was getting us to spell out conjugations on the board for her to write up. The alphabet is said differently in French; there's a couple of real tricky ones, like 'j' and 'g' for which the sounds are reversed, and most vowels sound kooky too. I was trying to say 'e' and she just kept writing up 'r'.
Me: "Uhh... mais, non: e."
She writes 'r'.
Me: "E" [Eeeuuhhh]
She writes 'r'.
Me: "E" [EeeeeEEEeeeuuhhh]
She writes 'r'. Or 'h', or something.
Me: "E" [AaAAAaauuhhh]
She writes 'r'.
Me: "E" [EeeuuuUUUUuuuhhh]
She smiles at me like I'm a kid who just used the potty for the first time, and writes 'e'.
So, congrats, lady. You feel awesome and I feel like an idiot. Learning achieved? Zero.

I'd been feeling apprehensive coming into the class, because I knew we were due to tackle the subjunctive, a tense which doesn't even exist in English, but is used in French to express a 'mood' - something uncertain, not a concrete event, such as when you want someone to do something, or you doubt something will happen, or BLAH BLAH BLAH. Goddam French, why must you be so complicated and why do I love you so?

Anyway, you can imagine that this class did nothing to set me straight. I took less than half a page of notes and that included conjugating two irregular verbs. I am a visual learner, with a bit of kinaesthetic thrown in, and therefore learn best by writing things out in my own hand. I need to take notes, for my own reference and also to seal it into my brain.

I bailed at halftime, which I've never done before, not in the whole last two years. [This is not the thing I'm proud of, BTW. That's coming up and it's about as lame as this whole obscure, nerdy post.] She was intending on covering les arts in the second half, and that's vocab I have sussed.

But I didn't give up completely. (Insert here joke about the French and surrendering.) I dealt to some of those other things that were stressing me out, and got in touch with a lovely French friend of mine. My SOS was very kindly responded to and some tutoring over a lunchtime coffee was offered.

However! I was then foiled at the last minute, when mon amie was forced to cancel. This was on the day of my lesson for this week. I really wanted to get my head around things, so went to your friend and mine: The Internet.

The internet has some really crappy websites for language learning, and other brilliant ones. It takes a bit of clicking around to find what suits you, but it can be easy to find an out-right lesson or snippets here and there to work into something suitable.

This is the place where I found a great video and text about the subjunctive: http://www.frenchspanishonline.com/

And if you're wanting to work on numbers - I stop short everytime I have to say a date aloud - then take a look at this: French Numbers Listen and Repeat I right-button clicked and saved their files to put on my ipod.

Another great site is the BBC's Ma France. I didn't keep up with the weekly online activities, but even just dropping in when I remember and doing a few things is good for polishing up things. And I figure as many varied approaches as possible will really strengthen my understanding.

I wound up writing out pages of notes, printing out a nice little verb table as a reference and doing some fun highlightation as well. I filled in and padded out the gaps left from what clues I'd snatched from the mind-boggling week before, and actually even felt confident about the structure. (Not that I could actually yet carry it out on paper without the assistance of my work book, text book and dictionary - let alone speak it aloud!)

It turned out to be excellent prep work, because when Luc went over it in class that night, it turned out what I'd done was more comprehensive that is expected of us for this term. The idea was we'd just get an introduction, whereas we'd been thrown in the deep end - and my busy little catch-up session had meant I'd paddled most of the way out.

It really made me realise how much difference that extra work makes, and how important it is to keep on top of mes devoirs and maybe even invest time in extra work - other than the usual things I count as "homework", such as eating yummy snacks from Le Moulin and watching movies with Romain Duris in.


4 thoughts on “30 Days of Me: Bel's Day 9”

  1. Fuck man, I don't even know what those grammar terms mean in English... so I think I'll leave my language skills at being able to say a couple of pick-up lines in German, and being able to throw in the occasional word en francais. (Oh, and I could tell that your French friend is a member of the male species.)

  2. I have always said: I've learnt more about grammar and the English language from learning French, than I ever did at school.

    But, yeah, sorry - this friend is female. (Catherine, actually)

    ami is masc and amie is fem, and mon is "my" masc and ma is "my for fem.


    The Frenchies get all upset when two vowels have to neighbour up against each other, e.g.

    ma amie - which would be correct, but just isn't right, apparently.

    So it's mon amie using the masc "my" with the fem "friend", you have to be careful to spot the "e" [EeeuuuUUUuuuHHhhhh] ending to know it, as there's a double cross there.

    They pull this shit all the time, and because of things like how they count "h" as a vowel (WHAT LE FUCK?!) you have to write l'hotel instead of le hotel because that would count as two vowels butting up against each other in that DREADFUL way, which is just NOT allowed.

    Oh, French, I hate you, you beautiful sunnuva bitch.

  3. I'm also a non-grammar girl: most of what I know about grammar I picked up via learning German, since they sure as hell didn't teach us grammar at my high school... not on your life!

    But really what I came here to say was SMALL WORLD! The name 'Luc' plus 'bebe' and I know who your teacher is. Except that I've never met him, that's how conveniently small this world is.