Learning French: The Five Week Linguist 2018
Five weeks is no time for learning French. With that said, huge progress can be made.
It takes different amounts of time to learn different categories of languages. As English speakers, the languages that take us the least amount of time to become functionally fluent in are the ones most closely related to our language. Think about England’s neighbors, think French, Spanish, Dutch, et cetera. Languages that are much more difficult to learn — think farther away from England — that are completely different linguistically and culturally, take three to four times as long. Think languages that have different writing systems, like Arabic or Japanese.
The Foreign Service Institute has done a lot of research on how long it takes people to learn these different categories of languages. They’re heavily invested in this. The amount it takes people to learn languages is the amount of time they’re going to have to invest in training people working at consulates and embassies all over the world. So those category one languages can often take people about 750 to 1000 hours to hit that functional fluency level. Those category three and four languages we talked about will take three or four times as long, based on their research.
200 hours is a great amount of time to invest in learning a language. And when I say 200 hours, I don’t mean just 200 unfocused hours. I am talking about dedicated, immersive communicative activities coupled with study and LOTS of input.
When you’re moving through the novice level, you can make rapid progress. Think of going from nothing to being able to make your own phrases and sentences with the words that you’ve learned. That can easily take a couple of 100 hours, and you will feel yourself progressing quickly. Get up to that next level, that B level, that ACTFL intermediate range, that 200 hours you’re probably going to make half the amount of progress, because it simply just takes longer to move into that next level.
Moving from that intermediate B level up into that advanced C level and beyond takes longer yet. That 200 hours is going to feel like it isn’t making as much of a dent in it reaching your goals. While you’re still making progress, it’s all about refinement here. It’s going to take longer to really feel your investment pay off. At the end of the article, there are some links for you to see and hear, in English, what those levels sound like.
In 2018, I made it my goal to be a little bit less rigid in my language learning, yet still make progress. I love to commit to 200 hours at a time, because I feel that it’s a great way to make some tangible progress. If I’m a beginner in a language, I can feel myself go from nothing to being able to do something. If I’m in the intermediate range, I can feel my phrases and sentences start hitting the paragraph level. And when I am advanced that 200 hours is going to really help my skills increase. 200 hours can provide a really measurable, tangible difference in skills.
But 200 hours can be a long time, too. A wonderful mentor of mine, Farnoosh Torabi, suggested another way to look at it, those 200 hours. What about five weeks? I wasn’t terribly keen at first, and then I started to really think about it. If it’s that time that matters, then there’s so many ways to look at that five weeks.
As a teacher, I often have five weeks in the summer that I can dedicate to intensive language studies. I don’t have that during the school year, but I have other time. I don’t have as much time to invest and be completely committed to my language studies, but there’s definitely time that I have, it just can’t be that 200 hours in one five-week period that I’m looking at. My smartphone has made it possible for me to fit 5-week chunks into my life easily year round.
2018 was one of my most enjoyable language learning years ever. I decided to work on my French. I was a barely B2-level during my long-term relationship with a French man. I was able to easily use what I had learned as a student many years ago, as well as improve greatly mostly in the context of interacting with his family in French. I wanted to maintain my skills after our relationship ended, and hit an unquestionable B2/approaching C-level.
I began 2018 listening to stories. I absolutely love my iPhone- it’s just a portable language lab. And with the Audible app, it’s possible to listen to stories in so many languages. I listened to this great series of short stories in French for learners, as well as a couple of novels. That was my first five week period. You can listen to these audiobooks while you’re walking and trying to lose weight, getting some exercise, cleaning your house, doing errands. There’s also commuting. It’s a great way to transform time you already have doing other things into stimulating learning time where you’re improving yourself.
French in Paris
My second stint was five weeks of working on my French in Paris. It was my first experience in a French language school. I went to school for four hours a day for five weeks, and spent the rest of my time out touring, speaking to people, reading, listening, and going to the movies.
Reading in French
My third five-week period was summer reading. I think reading is one of the best ways to learn a language. Once you’ve got some basic rules down, all of that reading serves you all the vocabulary and grammar you could ever ask for, all completely in context. Add it to something that you find interesting. I read graphic novels, tons of magazines and easy-to-read books.
French in the Car
The next five-week stint was commuting. I turned the hour a day I commute into language learning time. I listened to several great novels, all available on Audible.
Binge-watching in French
My last five-week stint in French was binge watching. I love to binge watch. Amazon Prime and Netflix offer fantastic series and films in French, and in many other languages. I love putting my pajamas on, having a cup of tea, and just watching enjoyable stuff. There’s great settings for subtitles. It’s a language lover’s dream.
I also invested heavily in Yabla-I absolutely love it. There are thousands of short videos shown on a patented player. They’re subtitled, captioned, and with translations. There are tons of games. Just fun and addictive. See music videos, news reports, interesting interviews and tours around the country. Absolutely amazing- I highly recommend it.
My last five-week stint is not in French at all, but rather in Thai. I had a trip to Thailand in December. And while I’ve been there numerous times, my Thai could use work. And if we’re honest, many people who are touring many places in the world don’t have to learn the local language, because the locals have done a great job of learning English. I think that travel is a great context in which to learn and practice languages. It is also a great way to show the locals you respect their culture. I find my experiences are enhanced when I do my best to speak their language. People are so generous with their praise of my efforts.
Think about it. Travel’s all about enriching yourself, but also getting your needs about all the language that you might need. Greeting people, learning how to use expressions of courtesy, ordering food, getting around. Thai is a difficult language for English speakers. It’s tonal, we don’t share a writing system. I’m certainly not expecting perfection, but each five weeks I’m studying a different theme.
Hear some samples of my fluency recordings below. The content is 100% not interesting. The point is to show you how you can keep yourself accountable and document your progress. I recorded myself every week, but only included a few. Do this every week and be amazed at the progress you make.
Looking for resources to learn French? Click here.