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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.