First French Words ~ Upcoming French Classes & Events Friday, Dec 5 2014
French Language 1:35 pm
The first French words I remember learning were la fleur. ‘The flower.’ Our Montessori school teacher held up flashcards with colorful images and instructed us to repeat the French names after her. I was five years old and with those few phrases in our kindergarten curriculum, something French in me must have clicked.
After a sprinkling of Spanish in elementary school, I started taking French in earnest in sixth grade and never stopped. Monsieur Ross taught us the building blocks of the French language in seventh and eighth grades. In high school, Mademoiselle Steensen reinforced grammar with the command, “Scamper to the blackboard, Mademoiselle Nouvelle, and conjugate your French verbs!” (My maiden name was “New” so I earned the name Mademoiselle Nouvelle or Nouveau depending on my teacher’s mood.) She had an eagle eye for mistakes so you definitely had to keep up on les verbes.
We graduated from French verbs to French literature by the end of my high school years. And then I continued my French language adventure in college, really taking the plunge by spending my sophomore spring in Aix-en-Provence. I still remember our vivacious and energetic Provence culture professor who kept us spellbound for hours with tales and legends of southern France–all in French, of course.
By this time, I was hooked on the language and the culture of la belle France, and it was only a matter of time before I ended up in graduate school getting a doctorate in the subject, going to the Sorbonne in Paris and finally becoming a professor of French myself. Even though I now do a variety of ‘French things’ in addition to teaching the language, I still love to work with people to help them learn their ‘first French words’ and more.
A propos, I am often asked what advice I would have for making learning French easier and not so intimidating. Here are a few astuces (tips) for saving time, learning more quickly and sounding more French fast:
- Have a positive attitude. Learning French IS possible.
- Decide why you want to learn the language. Do you want to get around on an upcoming trip to France? Do you want to come across as a ‘nice American’? Or do you think French is poetic and you’ve ‘always wanted to learn it’? Or?? Once you identify your motivation, you can choose a French course or program that best meets your needs.
- Learn the language ‘in chunks.’ In other words, don’t try to overanalyze and figure out what every little word or syllable is doing in the French sentence. That can come later if you spend more time in the language. At the beginning, it’s fatiguing and prevents one from communicating–which is the point of language in the first place. So just practice ‘je vous en prie’ and simply equate it with ‘you’re welcome.’
- Make French part of your ‘muscle memory’ with lots of practice and drills. It sounds boring but it really works. Only after a lot of tennis practice can one walk on the court and serve an ace. It’s the same with language – you have to drill the same words and structures over and over to serve up that just right French expression with that just right accent in the moment.
- Find a part of the language that really motivates you and start from there. If you adore French food and cooking, then build your communication skills and vocabulary around this topic. Maybe your love is gardens, or art, or history, or Paris. Whatever it is, make that your French language learning focus. You’ll be more motivated and much more successful.
- Get tons of French ‘input.’ The more you’re exposed to French language and culture, the quicker you’ll be able to speak and communicate. Read French magazines and newspapers (online or paper), watch French TV and movies (see if your cable company offers TV5 Monde), attend French events, dine at French restaurants, cook French food, and of course, spend time traveling in France. Your confidence will go way up – and you’ll find you can say things you didn’t even know you knew!
- Recognize that the French value good pronunciation more than good grammar or good vocabulary. It pays to make an effort to shed that American accent and ’sound more French.’ So be sure to take a French course that includes pronunciation as part of its curriculum. Or take a very focused French pronunciation or phonetics class at some point in your language journey.
Speaking of journeys, a final thought is that learning another language and another culture is always a process. It doesn’t happen overnight (too bad!), and I am not sure it’s ever possible to say one has ‘arrived’ as a language is wonderfully rich and the kaleidoscope of a culture is always changing. But with a little focus and effort, anyone can learn some French…and have wonderful cultural experiences along the way.
A previous version of this article was published in November, 2011.
French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter
The next round of French Affaires’ language classes will begin in January, 2015. If you have been thinking about learning your first French words or want to exercise your French conversation skills, then check out our upcoming offerings. We’ll also have our special “French for Travelers” class at SMU to make your next visit to France easy and rewarding. For more details, please click on the course titles below:
Our culture seminars this spring include “Magnificent Châteaux Near Paris: Day Excursions in the Ile de France” and “French Kings & Queens: A History of the Monarchy of France.” And there are always ongoing cultural events – the French Cookbook Club, French Cuisine & Culture Workshops and more – designed to bring even more of France to the U.S.! Check out the Events page at www.frenchaffaires.com for details and updates.
NB: If you’d like to see one of these classes or events offered in your city, please contact us for more details at firstname.lastname@example.org.