Monthly Archives: March 2012

Can you be in the driver’s seat when learning a new language?

I am a big believer in discovery-based learning and I just love the Montessori education system for that aspect alone. In the Montessori system, the child is at the driver’s seat and can often choose the next thing that interests him/her. Though there is a teacher in the background with a certain plan of action, the system gives a lot of independence to the child to determine what to learn next and how long to spend on the chosen activity. When I attend the presentations at my son’s Montessori school, I am often floored by Maria Montessori’s novel ideas.

I often wish that a similar approach is available for adults to pursue their education needs, be it learning a new language or something else. When I read the Language Hacking Guide by Benny Lewis, he strongly advocates taking control of your learning from Day 1. Though I agree with his idea in general, I felt that it would be overwhelming to take complete control from day 1. So, I have decided to do a few courses in French so that I can build up a certain language core first (I heard this term from Luca, who is an accomplished polyglot, in one his videos on youtube). After trying a few courses, I settled on Assimil French with ease course as the best way for me to build up a language core in French.

Now that I have done 100 lessons in Assimil French, I wanted to start a new habit to apply what I have learnt. I am not a fan of passive learning. I love active learning – I want to apply what I have learnt so that the ideas have a personal association in my mind. When I learnt English as a second language during my school days, I have found journaling to be an extremely effective way to apply what I have learnt. When I read my own diary after a few years, I could recognize many of the mistakes that I have made and how illiterate my language was, at times. So, I have started journaling in French a few days back as a new habit to apply what I have learnt so far using Assimil.

Here is what I did: I wrote in Evernote about my plan for the day, how the previous day went, my mood at the time of writing, etc. After finishing writing, I pasted what I wrote into Google translate and also ran a spell-checker on it. Whenever Google translate did not translate the French sentences into English correctly, I know that there is a mistake there. Also, I have found a very nice proofreading extension for Google Chrome called AtD which goes beyond simple spelling mistakes and does grammatical analysis. So, with the feedback from both Google translate and the proofreader, I started correcting the mistakes. This pointed out gaps in my knowledge. So, I have googled a bit to fill the gaps in the specific areas that I needed to know and to correct the mistakes. I have done it only for a few days now, but I can attest to its effectiveness. When I look back at my full-page of written text in French, I get such a satisfaction. Moreover, I have learnt from my own mistakes which is very powerful.

Today, I came across a blog post which talks about taking control of learning grammar and it had a ton of extremely useful suggestions. It does even mention journaling as a way to apply what we have learnt. It also suggests that the right time to start taking control is not your day 1 with a new language, but after having done an introductory course in your target language.

Yesterday, I have spent a few hours reading up a lot of blogs on language learning to find some new ideas to improve my learning approach. But, at the end, I was just exhausted as I did not find anything original or insightful. But I must admit this blog post today was very insightful and it has motivated me a lot.

This advice is exactly what I was looking for. Extremely relevant; beautifully written. If you are stuck in language learning after finishing your first course in your target language, not knowing how to proceed, here is the method to follow. After finishing Assimil, I was wondering what I would do next – now, empowered by the clear thought process laid out in this article, I am going to take control of my learning.

Check out the post here and let me know whether you liked it.

Thank you Aaron – Now, I will look forward to your first mail tomorrow on your 10-week journey newsletter. This is the first mail I got from you and I must say that I am very impressed. Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed post and to create an excellent video to explain the method even more.

Progress Report – 2 Months of French

It has been a month of tremendous progress both in completing the Assimil lessons and in applying what I have learnt in real-life situations. From 35 lessons last month, I have completed 96 lessons now. In another week, I hope I can complete Assimil French with ease.

Unlike last month when I felt that the lessons were becoming easier, this month I felt that the complexity of lessons have gone up tremendously. I have increased the time I put into studying my lessons, but despite that I was making less progress than what I expected to make. The speed of the audio dialogues have gone up – that is part of the reason, I guess. Then, all the tenses are now introduced – future, past imperfect & subjunctive. In the first 50 lessons, when I finish the lessons and do the exercise, I used to get all the exercises and fill-in-the-blanks correct. However, this time, I was getting most of the fill-in-the-blanks wrong. But it is not a problem. I look at my mistakes very positively as they are stepping stones to reach where I wanted to reach. The more mistakes I make, the more I learn.

Apart from Assimil, I have started listening to Michel Thomas French as well. Michel Thomas course is very impressive and his approach is very innovative and refreshing. I will write a post about it once I get through all the 10 hours. I was able to blaze through the course almost answering all the sentences he asks the students to build. Definitely, Assimil has equipped me with all the grammatical structures and vocabulary. But some of the aspects of spoken french that I took a long time to figure out through Assimil were presented very well in Michel Thomas. If you are starting with French, I recommend that you start with Michel Thomas or do Michel Thomas along with Assimil. They are 2 different approaches with advantages on their own. But Michel Thomas will give you a feeling that French is very easy and he will get you talking much much faster. To me, easy or hard is in your mind and to the materials/approach that you take in the initial days to learn the language. Michel Thomas will definitely give you the feeling that French is an easy language to learn.

I also started watching French in Action by Pierre Capretz produced by Yale University in the 80s. It is an immersion-based approach to learning French and it has a cult following. I watched about 7 lessons so far and I thoroughly enjoy it. I was able to understand most of the lessons. If you want an enjoyable way to learn French, you should check this out. The videos are available for free in the US at If you are outside the US, check them out on youtube –

Overall, I am happy with what I have been able to achieve in in 2 months with Assimil. I surprise my colleagues often by uttering some perfect french sentences in the middle of our conversations in English – these phrases almost jump out of my mind at the right time – that is the biggest benefit I see in Assimil.

In the next month, I intend to reduce my focus on learning more vocabulary or grammar. I have to apply what I have learnt before taking on much more. I will check out other courses that i have bought to reinforce what I have learnt. I will look for more ways to practice French. If you have any interesting ideas, please share them with me.

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