For the past couple of years, I’ve been trying, off and on, to learn to read French. If you were to subtract all the “off” time from those couple of years, you’d probably find I’ve spent about two or three months in daily study, and that study has focused almost entirely on learning to read French, not listen to, speak, or write it. (This is mainly because I can’t afford to take classes or buy expensive CDs.)
As you can imagine, my progress has been slow.
But after about six months off, I jumped back in last month, using the wonders of much-hyped technology. I’m pulling down French-language podcasts, for example, so that I can learn the sounds of native voices. I can’t make out, yet, much of what the speakers are saying, but it’s still helpful.
And late yesterday, I subscribed to the RSS feed of the French newspaper Le Monde, thinking I could learn a little just by reading newspaper articles. Again, my idea is to see the language in its natural context.
Most of what I saw yesterday was mundane–a few articles about the Tour de France and whatnot. But today brought news that Scotland Yard has started rounding up suspects in last week’s terrorist bombings in London. Moreover, the blurb on Le Monde was the first place I saw the story.
Which means I’ve read important news in a foreign language before seeing it in my own. That’s pretty cool.
bouquiner (boo-kee-nay) verb
1. to hunt after, to collect, old books
2. (informal) to read
I really need to read more after work, and I definitely should start studying French again, but I’m always tired and the TV’s so distracting. Sigh.
<a href="”><img class="blogimg" src="” alt=”, by ” border=”0″ align=”right”>After stalling out a bit, I’ve returned to studying French. I ordered a copy of Easy French Reader, which has an ugly cover, I’ll admit, but is still a good introductory book. The book is in three parts: Part I contains a set of dialogues between an American teenager, Christine, and her French friend Charles, both of whom live in Paris. Part II is a collection of essays, written in French, about figures from French history. Part III contains several short stories, from writers such as Zola, that are mostly intact but have a few edits to make the vocabulary more suitable for beginning readers.
I’m still also working through French for Reading, but it’s slow-going. The audience for that book is graduate students who need French to do study and research, and so the prose is academic, scientific, and, I think, stilted and dry. I found myself bogging down, so I wanted something a little less erudite.
With my focus so squarely on written French, my pronunciation lags behind. That’s okay to an extent; I don’t foresee conversing in French in the near future, but I would like to read it. I do, however, want to begin developing an ear for the language so that I can understand, for example, the dialogue in French-language movies. Also, I’d eventually like to take a French class, and a head-start in verbal abilities will help.
With that in mind, I’ve been working through the French-language activities offered as part of the BBC’s languages series. Without buying the videos, of course, I can’t view the Beeb’s French programs, but the website offers interactive modules that allow you to listen to and practice conversational French.
It’s standard introductory material–asking for directions, ordering a drink or a meal, buying Metro tickets, inquiring about the price of a piece of merchandise–but it’s a good start to picking up the sounds of French words.
Update on the French, which I first mentioned a week ago. I’m now in the tenth chapter of the book, and I think it’s going pretty well. The book is set up in a way that makes learning the language pretty straightforward. The author introduces a point of grammar and some accompanying vocabulary, discusses it with some examples, and then provides translation exercises using the new grammar and vocab. The end of each chapter has a multiple-choice quiz, a passage to translate, and questions on the passage.
I’m pleased with my progress. I usually struggle through the exercises at first. I chunk them into groups of two or three and run through each group two or three times until I’m satisfied with what I’ve learned. I then move on the next group. When I reach the end of the chapter, I run through the exercises one more time before doing the multiple-choice and translation sections.
The book has twenty-one chapters, so I think after I finish this chapter, I’m going to run back through what I’ve covered to date as a kind of midterm. The review will do me well.
The next step is to start reading real stuff in French. I have an issue of Paris Match, and the funny thing is, it features an interview with Enki Bilal. Bilal is one reason I’m doing this; his work with Pierre Christin on The Hunting Party (Partie de Chasse) and Black Order Brigade (Les Phalanges de l’Ordre Noir) were the first comics I read (other than Tintin as a child) of French origin.
In my latest demonstration of geekery, I’ve decided to teach myself to read French. I’ve been wanting to pick up another language for a long time, and some of you might remember the whole week, about two years ago, during which I was enrolled in a Japanese class at IU.
I have several reasons for doing this:
So what I’m doing is, I’m working through a book called French for Reading, by Karl Sandburg. Sandburg wrote for graduate students who need reading knowledge of French for the purpose of study and research in their disciplines. He wrote his book to be used either individually or for classroom purposes.
I’m through about seven chapters so far, and it’s going well. I’ll check in from time to time to discuss how I’m doing with it.