Pakistani origins & my dormant French
green monsters is where it began
Learning French has always been something strictly scholarly for me – I’ve taken French at school since I can remember… like, even back in Grade 1 – I recall sitting in my classroom in Islamabad, Pakistan, watching French episodes of Muzzy the Green Monster. One of the first French words to solidify in my memory was parcmètre – a parking meter – because Muzzy the Green Monster ate one. After 9/11 happened and we evacuated Pakistan, I didn’t do French at school in South Africa. Only when we moved to Dubai 4 years later did I continue with my French at school.
TL;DR: Watch the video!
The state of my French
I’ve come a long way since then, taking French up to my final year of high school. I promised my French teacher that I’d continue learning after I graduate. I didn’t really learn actively after that, though. I’ve tried to keep the French language alive by other means. Reading articles relevant to my field of work, Tweeting people in French, watching French Netflix or following French meme accounts on Instagram has been how I’ve kept the language semi-active for the past few years.
But I soon realized my speaking ability deteriorated significantly. I could understand just fine, but found it hard to express myself or remember complex tenses, irregular verbs and conjugations. I felt like I was losing the language and decided it was time to revive it for real. Thank goodness for the blessing of a friend who could help me!
Getting back on track
a friend indeed
I met a French girl named Ally on Instagram, who lives in Singapore too. We had a lot in common and soon we started hanging out every weekend. Slowly but surely she started speaking less English and more French to me. At first, this was frustrating to me because I could understand her just fine but struggled to express my own thoughts fluidly. I felt like a baby talking to her! But she pushed on patiently and kindly and corrected my mistakes as we went along.
cute notebooks help!
One day, I showed her a cute notebook I bought.
“What will you use it for?” she asked.
“I don’t know, maybe Vietnamese?” I replied.
“No! Use it for French!”
“But I already have a notebook for French”
“I don’t care! This one is pretty. Here, let me give you a dictation so you can write something in French in it”.
From that day onwards, I had a lovely notebook for French and we kept doing more dictations and writing practice. She gave me homework to do – to write my own “journal intime” diary entries. This became a regular thing, and very naturally, we developed our own learning structure and goals for my French immersion.
3 ways I maintain my French
Being at an intermediate level, I’m able to follow conversations and mostly express my thoughts in French. There is still a long way to go and I’m lacking a lot of situational vocabulary, so one of my favorite ways of learning French now is through weekly conversational practice with my friend. We usually meet every weekend and try to speak only French. When I’m stuck on a word, she’ll let me try explain it other terms, and if I can’t do that, she’ll teach me the new word.
Conversations are so important for intermediate learners because you constantly expose yourself to the language and you’re using it in a daily life context, talking about thinks that are interesting and relevant to you. I can feel my French is much more fluid now, more than it was before I started practicing weekly. I knew all the French I learnt before is sitting somewhere in my brain; I just needed a catalyst to refresh it.
Ally and I enjoy choosing a topic and then doing a dictation about it. She’ll come up with the sentences relevant to a particular topic (past ones we’ve done are lockdown/isolation, subcultures in France, and getting past the intermediate plateau). This helps me immensely because it tests my listening and spelling. If I write something incorrectly, she helps me after the dictation to spell it correctly. All my corrections and native speaker sentences are in one place in my notebook when we do dictations. Sometimes it’s frustrating when I’ve never heard a word and can’t even guess its meaning, but this provides an opportunity to learn new vocabulary and sentence structures.
Apart from writing a dictation from Ally’s speaking, I also do my own writing weekly. I choose a topic like design, productivity, minimalism, language techniques or even societal issues, and then write as much as what comes to mind. Ally checks this for me weekly when we meet, and I’m so grateful! If you don’t have a language exchange partner or tutor to check your writing, you can always upload it on an app like HiNative or Hellotalk to get free corrections.
Keeping the momentum
Going forward, the hardest part for me isn’t learning new words, but continuing to use French and practicing daily. It’s hard when you have a fulltime job and other languages that are fighting for your attention! As long as I make sure to do a little but each day and some good immersion on the weekends, I am sure my French will improve by leaps and bounds in the long run.
All the best with your French learning!
French is so easy, because I’m a native portuguese speaker.
Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve myself resolved to finally move up from B1 to B2 French in 2021, and am putting the emphasis on 2 KEY ACTIVITIES (1) listening and speaking and (2) memorising everyday expressions and syntax.
For listening and speaking, I use (1) a variety of Youtube videos and flick back and forth until I understand almost everything they say, (2) 2xhalf hour Italki conversation sessions a week to improve my speaking confidence, and (3) a local weekly French conversation group with teacher as the ‘icing on the cake’. All this activity provides a constant flow of new vocab/expressions/grammar which either feeds an Anki set of simple sentence flashcards or simply gets written into a journal. It also generates some reading and writing in French but I try to avoid that becoming the emphasis.
The memorising is via the Anki cards, 15 – 20 minutes every morning and the same in the evening. The card emphasis (800 and counting) is more on everyday expressions and syntax than straight vocab (I have another whole set of 700 cards built a few years ago based on the top 1,000 words in French which I review from time to time). The cards take a bit of building and editing (not for everyone) but have become a hobby in themselves!
So is all this working??? Unbelievably well!! In just 2 months I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my listening comprehension and a steady improvement in speaking confidence. It might seem like a formidable schedule but it’s actually not too bad (I still manage lots of exercise and a creative hobby and am fortunately retired) and I just love the whole language learning process. With the current restrictions on travel (I live in NZ) I’ve decided 2021 will be my year of “immersion à la maison”.