Fast Track to Fluency – French

eiffel tower at night

Eiffel Tower at Nights

The quality of my French is a source of embarrassment for me. I started taking French in school when I was fifteen. After taking courses all through high school and college, working for a Canadian Francophone for a summer, and being enrolled at a language school in France, I passed the DELF B1. Essentially, after 7 years, it was officially certified that my French was “Intermediate”.

What followed was Graduate School and real life. While I’ve tried to maintain my language skills using French resources I’ve accumulated over the years, I had largely accepted the inevitability that without using the language there was no way to improve, let alone maintain, my level of fluency. I have decided I am done with that defeatist attitude.

While I am confident I have the resources at my disposal to start studying to become fluent in French again on my own, I know that the accountability and conversation provided by a classroom environment will be beneficial if I’m actually going to stick with this. Living on the outskirts of the DC/Baltimore area, there are a few options at my disposal, but I would like to enroll in a program that both requires attendance to keep me motivated and provides the possibility to get certifications in French as I improve.

Unfortunately, the continuing education classes at the local community college are either online or for beginners, and the local Alliance Française doesn’t currently offer formal classes. Instead, I intend to make a very serious commitment of both my time and my finances, and enroll in classes at the Alliance Française in Washington, DC.

To take classes at the alliance, you need to pass a pre-test to evaluate your skills unless you meet certain requirements. I’ve decided I want to take a few weeks and actively study for the test, both to make sure I don’t end up paying for a class below my level and to prove to myself that this is something I’m going to prioritize.

Dates for the fall semester haven’t been posted yet, but based on the end dates of the summer session, it will probably start sometime in mid to late August. An early registration discount of $20 is offered, usually for registering at least a month before the class begins. I am always going to try save $20, especially when the courses cost $400. My goal is to take the online placement test by July 10th, which should give me enough time to work out whatever additional information they need to complete registration. To prepare myself, I have been implementing a French schedule that needs to be completed six days a week (I’d say seven, but it’s the summer and friends I haven’t seen in years are coming home, and there will be wine, so I need to be realistic). So, here are the tools I’m using in my quest to practice:

Duolingo – Duolingo is a free language learning app/website. It’s great for practicing on the go and keeping yourself motivated by visually displaying progress. I would like to keep a streak going until I take the placement test. I don’t hold myself to this too strictly, mostly because my language learning frequently starts between 11pm-12:30am, which means on days I start after midnight, I lose points. Basically if I use Duolingo before bed, I’m counting it, even if the Duolingo doesn’t.

Harry Potter à l’Ecole des Sorciers – I’m rereading Harry Potter in French for two reasons: (1) It is a text I’m already familiar with so I’ll be less reliant on translating tools to follow the plot and (2) I love this books so I know I won’t avoid reading it. I want to read about 10 pages per day (my copy is 311 pages). If I am three pages from the end of a chapter, I probably won’t be able to help myself. This should take me a month. I have the second book and will evaluate the effectiveness of this schedule when I finish the first. I want to focus on reading without looking up every word. I will keep a journal of words I want to look up later to make flashcards, but I am not going to sit with a dictionary next to me while I read.

English Grammar for Students of French – Pretty much what the title says.I’m just reading one chapter per day, and pausing when I get too far ahead of the other content I’m working on.I really like structure when I learn, and understanding how language functions is of great interest to me. This is not something that everyone will find beneficial, but it really helps me.

Easy French Step by Step – This is a French textbook that was never used in any of my classes, but was highly recommended by other students of French when I was living in France. It is decidedly the best textbook I have used in my years learning french. First, I want to review the 100 or so pages I’ve already done since January and make flash cards. Once that’s done, I’ll aim to do 3 exercises per night and read all of the material that goes along with them.

Miscellaneous books of poetry and French slang – I want to focus on using my other, more traditionally academic materials, but I have these if the usual routine becomes tedious.

Netflix/iTunes – Watching French films and television shows and listening to French music are going to be very beneficial when trying to improve my listening comprehension. I want to finish Les Revenants and watch Amélie. I also have some French music somewhere on my computer that I need to find.

Once I take the test, I’ll follow-up with what worked, and what I ended up ditching.

Wish me luck!

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