You might wonder “What? The curse of knowledge? Did I read it right?”. Yes, you have read it right and we are not talking about knowledge as a blessing, but knowledge as a curse. This is a popular concept and an extremely effective tool to improve any aspect of your communication – writing, presenting to others, talking and even writing a simple email. Let me explain.
Please recall a situation in your life in which you were interacting with an expert in a field that you didn’t know much about. Did you understand the expert’s language? How did the expert make you feel? Let me talk about a situation that I have recently encountered. Before reading this story, it would be better if you know that I am engineer running an IT consulting startup.
I was talking to an accountant about some transactions that I have to do in my accounting software to comply with the Swiss regulations for filing my company’s financial statements in Geneva. He told me that I have to debit this account, and credit that account and blah…blah… and it went straight over my head. I said “What? What? Can you please repeat that slowly?”. He repeated it not once but multiple times.
It has been a long time since I have posted anything in this blog. Lot of things are going on in my life – managing the new startup, moving my family from Geneva, Swiss to India and setting up a new team in India. The blog has taken a backseat in the middle of all these changes. Once in a while, I think of something interesting to post on the blog, but never got around to doing it.
Around 2 weeks back, one of my clients has recommended me to take a look at a book called ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek. There is a short TED talk here that explains the entire book in a nutshell. I watched that video and was hooked onto the idea and I bought the book. Now, I am reading the book and finding it to be quite insightful in a number of areas. In the coming days/weeks, I will share with you the ideas that I found useful in that book.
The crux of the book is this:
In the first post in this series, I have talked about the goals I have set for myself and whether I have achieved them. Now, in this post, I will talk about all the French courses I have taken with brief comments about how helpful they have been for me. As of now, I am listing the courses – in the course of the next few days, I will add my commentary about each of these courses.
The top 2 courses which have been of tremendous help to me are
- Michel Thomas French – I have completed all 3 courses – Total, Perfect and Master Class. This is the best value for my time and money of all the courses that I have looked at so far. Michel Thomas is a genius teacher and his methodology is a breath of fresh air in the market overcrowded with long-hours-of-learning-grammar approaches. There are 4 different aspects to learning a language – reading, listening, writing and speaking. I have written those 4 aspects in the increasing order of difficulty. Michael Thomas tackles the most difficult part right away from the first 5 minutes. He does not overwhelm you with lot of details, but builds up the details gradually. I am surprised at how much grammar he has managed to teach in around 12 hours of audio.
There are a few disadvantages to the course like his French with a heavy Polish accent, the mistakes made by his students, and of course the high price tag. But all of these disadvantages pales in comparison to the tremendous value you get out of this. This would be my top recommendation if you are starting on French or struggling with French. Please click here for a more detailed review of Michel Thomas.
- Assimil French with ease (first book in the Assimil series) – This is my next favourite. While Michel Thomas gives you a head start and gives you lot of confidence and speaking practice, he misses 2 other important aspects – Reading & Listening. You have to listen to lots of content by native speakers and you have to read a lot of content for your brain to get accustomed to French. There will come a point when your brain has gotten so used to French that it does not seem unnatural any more for you. But if you jump right into French content which is not devised for beginners, you might feel overwhelmed and might lose motivation, although there are some people out there who have managed to learn a new language this way just by immersion. But for the rest of us, Assimil is a great help.
Assimil provides easy-to-digest and funny lessons which start off very simple, very easy and very slow talking style. The pace of talking and the complexity of lessons gradually increases and you reach native speaker pace in the last 10 lessons with really high levels of French. It is amazing what Assimil manages to achieve in such a short book. The vocabulary is extensive and the grammar becomes so much a part of you without you having to memorize anything by rote. All you have to do is stick to a routine and do 1 or 2 lessons every day – that means around 30 minutes to 1 hour. What is important here is not just reading and listening, but repeating aloud. Let me repeat it again so that it is not lost – Repeating the content aloud is the most beneficial and the most important part of learning with Assimil. Do not miss it!
Here are the other courses I have completed
- Babbel.com (Stage 1 of the 1-year-long course consisting of 4 stages) – Babbel has lot of fanfare and this was the very first course I have started on and I was pleased with it in the first few days. But soon I realized that the approach is very traditional and you don’t learn a language like this – at least, I don’t learn a language this way. This could be an excellent supplement to another primary course like Michel Thomas or Assimil, but I would not recommend it as the first and the only course that you take. I have written a longer review on Babbel here about 1 year back and yet this is the most popular post in my blog.
- LiveMocha.com Active French (All 4 levels)
- Live classes for 4 weeks conducted in my office
In addition to these courses, I have also done the following which are not necessarily courses, but these materials have helped me to improve my French
In addition to these, I have sampled a number of other courses, but did not pursue them fully – I have done a few lessons in most of these courses to allow me to evaluate whether they would work for me. Here is the list of courses I have looked that I can recall
It has been a year now since I have started to learn French seriously and it feels so good to realize how far I have come in this one year, given all the things I have heard about the difficulties of learning French as an English speaker. How many people have told me that it is a very difficult and a frustrating language to learn! But my experience with French has been totally opposite to these common perceptions: I found French quite easy to learn and quite enjoyable as well. I have found French language to be much more logical than English and I found it to be so similar to English in so many ways.
Before you write me off as a person with a language gene, let me tell you that I have tried to learn Hindi about 5 years back and failed miserably, even though I am an Indian and Hindi is similar to my mother tongue Tamil. What made the difference this time are 2 factors: excellent teachers/courses and an approach to study the language without making mastering the grammar as the primary goal.
This month has been the best month in my French learning journey. I got a lot of positive feedback about the progress I have made in French.
I have taken an assessment test by University of Geneva and I have been assessed at Level B1. There are 6 levels in French proficiency – A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. B1 & B2 represent an independent user who is able to manage in most of the everyday situations. B2 is the level that is required by French universities for you to enroll in courses there.
I have completed reading 3 books in French now and I know 7996 words in French now as the badge on the right shows. I completed my first French book at the end of 6 months and though I could understand the content of the book, it felt unnatural and uncomfortable. The second book I read was the The Linguist by Steve Kaufmann who runs the LingQ website. In this book, he describes his travel around the world and the insights he has gained into effective ways to learn a language. I agree with most of his insights and I have used many of his suggestions to learn French. When I finished this lengthy book, I felt far more comfortable with French and my reading speed has increased a lot.
The third book was a very famous little book – ‘Le petit prince’ (The Little Prince) – a French classic which I was planning to read for a long time. It feels so good to be able to read a French classic directly without the translation. The book resonated with me – I do not take the approach that most grown-ups take to life – taking it very seriously. I enjoyed the sarcasm that is generously littered throughout the book about the ways of the grown-ups. There are some chapters I do not fully comprehend, though I knew the meanings of most of the words. I have started reading the English translation to check whether I have understood the book correctly :).
Tip 1 – Minimize the Ribbon quickly
When Microsoft introduced the Ribbon interface in their Office 2007 version, lot of users were unhappy that it takes up so much screen real-estate away. I hated the Ribbon interface and over time, I have gotten used to it. When you are editing a document whether it is Excel, Word or Powerpoint, it is helpful to have the Ribbon fully displayed. However, when you are presenting a document or just reading it, it is good to have more screen real-estate by getting rid of the Ribbon temporarily.
In a lot of meetings I attend, I see people scrolling up and down to see a few more lines whereas minimizing the Ribbon could have helped them to avoid scrolling. If you are sitting with a group of people of review any Excel, Word or Powerpoint, you should consider minimizing the Ribbon.
It is actually quite easy to do and there are 3 ways to do this: