Monthly Archives: February 2012

I did it – Moments of triumph in my french journey

Today, I had to visit the social security office and the tax office of Geneva. It was during my last visit to the tax office that I got my resolve to start learning French – I could not get my way around with English and it was frustrating to go around and talk to different people without understanding much.

So, with 2 months of French learning, I was confident that I would be able to at least have a better experience compared to last time. I resolved not to talk a sentence in English and to try to get by using French only.

So, on the way to the social security office, I thought about what I wanted to talk and prepared the sentences. So, I entered the room ready to utter out a few French sentences.  I was a greeted by a gentleman who talks fluent English who was usually called in to talk to me during my earlier trips. Alas, an opportunity lost.

Then, I got my opportunity again, but this time I had no time to prepare as it was unplanned meeting. I had to meet another officer for getting some clarifications. So, with no time to even think about what I had to say, I entered the room with a resolve to try to talk as much French as I can. I explained to her the problem in broken French and she was able to understand. Then, she did some research and answered me – I understood what she said perfectly. I wanted to ask a few additional clarifications, which are just nice-to-have information and I was a little hesitant whether to ask them or not, as the sentences were a bit complex – However, I decided to take the plunge and uttered out my sentence. To my surprise, she understood and she replied to me smiling. I apologized for my bad French and I told her that I am just learning French – she smiled and was very graceful.

Then, I went to the tax department and I asked directions at the reception even though I remembered where to go. She asked me for some information and then she gave me the direction – I had some difficulty in understanding some of what she said. But after 2 repetitions and a little of guessing  based on context, I understood her question.

On my way back to office, I was feeling so good that I was able to get by without using any English. My confidence has really soared after these 2 meetings. Then, I went to the usual restaurant that I visit, but decided to talk in French. The server was asking me questions in English but I was answering in French – it was a bit funny. He must be wondering what happened to me 🙂

Then, I came to my office and received a parcel from Assimil. I ordered the next book in Assimil series as I am about to complete the French with ease. But I received a Russian book. So, I had to write to Assimil. So, rather than writing in English, I decided to write in French. I first typed the French sentences in Google translate to see how Google is translating my sentences into English and with a bit of lookup to fill the gaps in my knowledge, I sent the mail. It was not a long mail, but I am feeling great that I am able to accomplish little tasks in French.

For those of you who know French and who are curious, here is what I have written – you are welcome to point out errors in my sentences.

Bonjour Madame Valerie.

malheuresement, il y a un problème. J’ai reçu le livre qui s’appelle “Russian with ease”, tandis que j’ai commandé duex autres livres: “Using French” et “l’arabe sans Peine”. Alors, comment puis-je retourner cet envoi et recevoir les bons livres?

excusez-moi pour mon français. j’apprends le français maintenant avec Assimil et je veux utiliser ce que j’ai appris.

I wrote my first official letter in French

I had to do a follow-up with the social security office in Geneva. So far, I used to send my mail in English and I get a response in French and I use Google Translate to understand what they were saying. It is less than 2 months since I have started learning French. But, I felt confident enough to write a few lines.

I had to ask whether a document that I sent 10 days ago has reached there and when I can expect to receive my final bill for 2011. I was able to quickly formulate the sentence structure – but there were some gaps in my knowledge with respect to some words that i had to use. I did not know how to create a future tense conjugation as it has not been covered yet in Assimil. I used the previous communication from the social security office and lifted a few words to use. With a  bit of googling to figure out the future tense, I came up with 2 sentences and typed them in French into google to see whether the translation was coming out right. Then, Voila, I sent the message. I am very happy that I am able to write even 2 sentences in a formal situation.

I showed the mail later on to a colleague who said that the sentences were perfect except for one typo, which Google did not catch.

Small victories for 1 month of Assimil French

Last week, in about a month since we started Assimil French, we have completed the Passive phase which corresponds to 49 lessons. From 50th lesson onwards, we have to go back to Lesson 1 and should translate from English to French. We have covered 10 lessons now in Active phase – I must say that I am surprised at the ease with which we are able to translate from French to English.

When we got the first lesson perfectly correct, my wife was saying that it was because we might have unconsciously memorized the first lesson. Being the first lesson, I have listened to  that lesson so many times that I could repeat the entire dialogue from memory. However, now that we have completed 10 lessons in active phase, I am realizing that is not pure memorization alone. It is not possible to memorize so many sentences and new words in such a short period of time. There is something else at work – I can’t nail down what it is exactly. May be, this is what the Assimil team calls assimiliation.

The objective of learning a new language is to memorize words and phrases and the grammar rules so that you can form sentences on your own. I always felt that memorizing sentences is easier than memorizing individual words. When I learnt English vocabulary in school days, I always learnt an example sentence for every new word that I studied – this made the memorization easier. Now, with Assimil, when I listen to the dialogues which consists of 10 or more sentences many times, most of the words in the entire dialogue are etched on to my memory because there is a story line and it is easy to learn many new words when there is a thread running through them. Also, in most of the lessons, there is some fun element which makes the memorization process even easier. This is why most of us can recollect entire stories without much conscious effort. Assimil has taken that concept and applied it to language learning, I guess. The process is so easy and so enjoyable.

What is surprising is that many grammatical structures which were introduced in the first 10 lessons seem so natural to me – this would not have been possible if I sat with a grammar book and tried to consciously learn new rules and example sentences for each new rule. Assimil’s claim is very true – your mind assimilates lot of information quite easily if you present information in a certain way. I try to remember the key advice from Assimil’s introduction – ‘if you accept rather than analyse, which is the problem of most adult-learners, you will learn a lot more and you will enjoy the process’. Every once in a while, I get an urge to analyse the sentence structures, but I resist the temptation and try to follow the advice. And it has worked quite well so far.

There are lot of small victories I had in this 1 month. Here are some of them:

  1. 2 weeks back, we went to Val Thoiry, a town in France, which is very close to Geneva for shopping. We could understand most of the notice boards on the shops that we visited. I managed to even order coffee and sandwiches without talking a word in English. I and my wife felt so good that we could reach this point in just 1 month of studying.
  2. Last week, I also visited Lyon for work-related reasons. Like a little child on the road, I was trying to read every road sign that I came across. I tried to read everything I came across in the office that I visited and I was able to understand lot of things after reading them a few times over.
  3. This week, we visited Ikea and I was able to read most of the notice boards and understand them fully. I remember my first few visits to Ikea when I struggled to purchase a pillow and blanket without knowing French.
  4. I tried to talk in French as much as I can when I visit a restaurant so that I can put to use what I am learning.

Overall, it is such a great feeling that we are able to progress so much without much frustration. We have been very sincerely putting in at least 1 hr every day in learning French. And it is paying off. I am looking forward to completing my Assimil book to see what level I can reach.

Progress Report – 1 Month of French

It has been a month now since we have started learning French.

I have completed 5  modules (35 lessons) in Assimil French course. The course has been very enjoyable and I was able to comfortably cover 2 lessons per day in the last week.

I wanted to check how much French we have learnt in a month and tried to read a paragraph from the French newspaper that we get at home – Voila! we were able to understand one full paragraph of French – we are so happy and so thrilled. We also picked up a few children books and tried to read them. We could get 70-80% of the story. What is amazing is that most of the words that we see in these books have all been covered in Assimil. Definitely Assimil has equipped us with lot of vocabulary and exposure to many grammatical structures without any explicit drilling or memorization.

In Easy French Reader, I have completed 13 lessons. The stories are very interesting. There were a few stories around a teacher trying to teach French using French from day 1 of class. There was an argument between Marc and July, where are trying to learn English and French respectively, as to which language has more exceptions and is more complicated. The stories are very funny and the vocabulary is kept very light. This is a very good supplement to Assimil course.

French pronunciation is not at all a mystery any more. Everything seems to make sense and I am more and more feeling at home with certain grammatical structures. Repeating the sentences aloud has really helped me to internalize lot of the grammatical structures easily. It has also helped in giving me the confidence to speak.

Visiting our local library is my time to put our French learning to use. I try to talk as much as I can using the structures and words that I have learnt so far. From the time that we started learning French, the library has become a very useful place for us. Before I started learning French, the local library did not have any place in my life as most of the books were in French. Now, library plays a dual role – one is obvious as a place to check out books; other is as a place to practice French.

Now, I have converted the reading time with my kids also into a time of learning  French. We got many bilingual story books and picture dictionaries from the library and it is fun to go through them with my kids. My son is learning English and I am learning French and we take turns in reading the respective languages.

We are very happy about the progress we are making in learning French with Assimil. In my next post, I will share the small victories we had so far.

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