French @ Italki Challenge: halfway there!

Incredibly, last Thursday I did my 12th hour of French for the Italki Language Challenge (out of 20 required to complete it). More incredibly, I also got pretty sick this very week, so I didn’t actually do as many hours as I had expected to. Anyway, here’s…

A quick update

I think it’s the first time I’ve put such intensity into one language. I don’t mean to say I’m more interested in French than I’ve been in any of my other languages (both serious attemps and light dabbling), but since I started this language I’ve progressed in a very natural way. Putting in one hour of conversation and anywhere between 30 min and 3 hours of self-study into this project just feels right.

This reminds me that as of late, I’ve been more conscious about my study hours than usual. This is not because I suddenly felt I should be more mathematical about my study methods, but rather because I am currently participating in the 6 Week Challenge, which requires its participants to log their study hours through a Twitter bot. In the beginning I thought this wouldn’t really influence me to study any more or any less than I was in the first place, but the effect of participating in what’s in essence a “race” has been quite interesting in the sense that knowing I’m in this with other people stimulates me to try harder. I’m not so interested in knowing in what place I am currently (although it’s fun to race other people learning my language as well, haha) rather than knowing how I’m distributing my study hours, doing what, and how. All these things one can keep track of through the challenge, so it’s good statistical data.

Partly because of participating in this challenge, partly because I’ve realized structure and form lead to better results, I’ve been trying to improve the way in which I administer my time and agenda. (Not that I did a very good job at that this week, what with work and school and more work and feeling pretty damn under the weather, but anyhoo…)

Talking the talk!

I’m actually talking in French for about 75-80% of my Italki sessions, only going back into Spanish or English when I am absolutely at a loss for words: I’ve noticed that this isn’t when I try to use regular words: for the most part, it’s when my mind tries to translate a colloquial expression from English into French. Unless I’ve heard that expression before and know its French equivalent, my brain’s language monitoring center usually goes on full blown red alert and tells me not to use that expression.

Will Robinson
Accurate description of what’s going through my head when this happens.

I have got to stop being so cautious and just dive in. I know better than anyone that making these particular mistakes is essential for the learning process, but old habits die hard. The funny part is, this doesn’t happen with regular words, only with expressions where I mean to imply something figuratively or where cultural references come into play.

Speaking of words, I’ve noticed two interesting things about my French: my source for words I haven’t heard before tends to be English (knowing that a good deal of the English lexicon derived from French), while my reference for correct French grammar tends to be Italian. By this I mean that when I speak in French and try a new word I haven’t used before, my first impulse is to look for it in my mental English database, and only when I notice the word doesn’t sound French, do I look for it in a dictionary. While I’m hard pressed to say this always works, several English words have turned to be the same in French, so while I build a better lexicon in this language, this may not be a bad method to keep the conversation in French territory (instead of jumping back into English every so often) .

My theory now is that as a language student, one will use whatever one’s got in the pantry to hold on to the language while at the same time creating a more accurate linguistic base through classes, study, tutoring, etc. Maybe that’s the reason why we tend to translate our thoughts literally?

So many resources, so little time…

After some hits and misses, I’ve run into incredibly good teachers that focus on monitoring both my vocabulary and pronunciation. Getting the pronunciation right has been a gruelling task, and I’m incredibly far from having it down pat, but at least I’m being pointed in the right direction all the time.

Probably one of the things I’m enjoying the most about this language project is the HUGE resources gap between French and my last language, Nahuatl. After spending most of 2014 pretty much doing detective work, looking everywhere for hints of where to learn Nahuatl and how, finding self-study resources in French is turning out to be a walk in the park.

Right now I’m enjoying several different listening-comprehension resources. I’m planning to summarize the best and most effective ones in a later post, but here’s just a little bite of what I would recommend to anybody wanting an ear-workout in French:

  • Apprendre le français avec TV5MONDE and 7 jours sur la planète: level-graded videos, with transcripts, exercises and explanations of recent, up-to-date and useful vocabulary. 7 jours has an app (available for both iOS and Android), excellent for taking your comprehension exercises on the road.
  • FluentU: although officially in beta right now, it’s an excellent video-based resource to listen to French (also available for Chinese, Japanese, German, Spanish and English). It’s based on phrase-by-phrase video segments, using a type of “subtitle” technology that stops the video when you hover over a word you don’t know. It also has vocabulary exercises available, and when you use these, the system remembers what words you remember and what you don’t. Since these are saved in your account, your word database applies to all the videos in the system, meaning that the system is able to suggest videos perfect for your vocabulary level!
  • Français Authentique: this is a very complete site and I honestly recommend Johan’s learning materials to ANYONE, but the part that I use the most is his podcasts. In these, he explains complex concepts and ideas in slow, easy-to-understand French, and they’re available completely free of charge in his website and in the Podcast section of Itunes.

Well, that’s it for now. I have several very interesting ideas and projects lined up for The Polyglotist, and I’d love to share them with you… but not yet! ;D

Are you also participating in a challenge? How is going? Good, bad, rough, easy-peasy? Let me know in the comments how your language projects are coming along!