French Language Article
By Walt Ballenberger of Beaux Voyages, Inc.
Many travelers to France indicate that they would like to brush up on their French language
skills before their trip. Make no mistake, learning a foreign language well enough to
communicate reasonably well is very difficult. However, if you studied French in high school or
college you might be able to put some of that long-ago effort to good use. Being able to
communicate, even with only a few words at your disposal, can make a trip much more fun, and
it will perhaps help you figure out where you made that wrong turn before becoming lost!
Here are two ways to brush up your French skills:
1. For a number of months I’ve subscribed to a great little free service called
French-Word-a-Day. This is a daily email from Kristin Espinasse, an American originally from
Phoenix who married a Frenchman and now lives with her family in Provence. Although the
implication is that you’ll receive one word per day, Kristin provides a good bit more. The
theme for each email is in fact one word, but there are also variations on the word, phrases
using the word and variations, and a daily proverb which contains the word as well. A recent
addition is an audio link to hear the word pronounced properly. Furthermore, Kristin writes an
essay she calls “A Day in a French Life” and uses numerous other French words woven into
her English text. She summarizes these words at the bottom of the article, which makes an
easy reference for additional words. Thus there is an opportunity to learn or relearn a number
of words each day. Each email has a link to her web site with a daily photo of France. In
addition, on the web site are listed the last ten words and their accompanying phrases,
proverbs, etc. as described above, so one can look over quite a
few words right away, even if your trip is coming up soon.
This is certainly an excellent review process for French vocabulary. Oftentimes I’ll see a word
or phrase I recognize but can’t quite pin down the translation exactly. For example, a recent
word was “le lendemain” (the next day). Included was a phrase I’ve heard before numerous
times, “du jour au lendemain“. I always thought this meant “from one day to the next”, which is
a literal translation. However, it really means “suddenly”, sort of like jumping from one day into
the next. It’s helpful to pick up nuances like that, and I’m sure I’ll remember this the next time I
hear it in a French conversation. In order to help retention, it is useful to print out the daily
entry and keep a file to review from time to time. It’s only by seeing words numerous times
that they can become part of your vocabulary. By the way, Kristin has compiled her essays
into 3 books which she sells on line, and those proceeds help defray the costs of Word a Day
so that it remains a free service. Of course buying the books gives you access to many words
at once, so that is another excellent option for improving or reviewing your French
vocabulary. To subscribe or purchase books, you can follow this link to French-Word-A-Day.
2. For those with a little more time and motivation another excellent tool is a French language
course on CD called “a l’ecoute de la langue francaise” which translates to “listening to the
French language“. I’ve used this excellent product and have found it to be a great review of
French vocabulary and grammar. There are 108 lessons broken up into beginner,
intermediate, and advanced categories, and all this takes 12 hours total of listening time on
the CD. At the end of each lesson there is a quick review test. There is both text and audio
for each lesson, so I find the best method is to print out the lesson, look it over, and then
listen to the audio, reading the text at the same time prior to taking the review test. The audio
for the beginner lessons is in English, but both the Intermediate and Advanced are in French.
There is a lot of material packed into these twelve hours, so I would recommend a pace of 2 or
3 lessons per week maximum, each week reviewing the previous week’s work. In this way
there is some repetition and also some time between lessons for the material to sink in. The
price for the program is 60 euros if ordered on line, and this includes shipping and a one year
subscription to a monthly email newsletter that has interesting articles about French current
events, culture, politics, etc., written in French. The web site offers numerous other services
and products, such as audio books to listen to, as well as a service to exchange email or even
voice recordings with a French professor who will critique the work and offer suggestions for
improvement. The company is located in beautiful Lyon, France, and you can find all their
products and services by following this link: Discours et Methode.
Au revoir et bonne chance!
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