Tips on Learning French (1)
Hi there, this is Steve here. Today, I'm going to talk to you about learning French . French was my first love when it comes to languages. There's an expression in French, in fact. You always go back to your first loves. I love French, I love all the languages that I learn, but I have a special feeling of affection for French. I studied French at school; I couldn't speak at the age of 16. I went to McGill University and had a professor who turned me on. He turned me on to French civilization. To learn a language you've got to really love the language, be committed to the language and want to be part of that community of people who speak that language. That's what happened to me. I got very keen and I ended up going to France for three years where I studied Political Science at [insert French] in Paris.
French is a precise language, it's the language of logic. This was the world at [insert French]. All of our presentations had to be presented from [insert French], part one here [insert French] and this and that. On the one hand this, on the other hand that. Everything had to be presented in a very balanced way, the sort of Cartesian [insert French] formula, which I still use in making presentations. It was a good training not only for my French, but in all languages. Learning to be more, I would say, precise and logical in the way you present your ideas not just running them on, although here I'm making a presentation where I'm just running them on.
So French was the language of logic and I highly recommend French, but French has some difficulties. French is difficult to understand. First of all, it's fairly monotonous. People speak in monotones, it's not English or Swedish or tonal languages, it tends to roll along in a fairly monotonous range of tones. Also, there are the nasal sounds and then the way the sound is carried on to the next word. These are things you have to get used to.
One thing I recommend insofar as pronunciation is concerned is to get used to making the sort of ‘ur' sound. [Insert French] There's lots of ‘ur' and ‘aw' and you kind of have to pick up on that and have it flow through your pronunciation, but it's also a bit of an obstacle when you're listening. They also slur words together, as we do in all languages. Instead of saying [insert French] they say [insert French] and so forth. You should get used to the whole flavor of French. You should become a little more argumentative, but in a nice way. [Insert French] All this kind of stuff is part of the fun of being French or pretending your French and really getting into the language.
Now, I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. As you know, I recommend that in order to learn a language you have to first expose yourself to the language with a lot of listening and reading. Particularly in French if you come up with a few phrases you can say “je m'appelle Steve”, my name is Steve. If you don't understand what they're saying you're lost, so build up your comprehension, build up your vocabulary. It's relatively easy to do in French because 60% or more of the words in English come from Norman French, so you'll find a lot of words that you will recognize. Even though they are obviously pronounced differently and may mean different things in French, this makes learning the vocabulary a lot easier than Russian. There's no point in trying to learn what they call cognates, those words that are similar, upfront. You won't remember them. You'll come across them in your listening and reading, but you'll just find that it's easier to retain the vocabulary.
Now, grammar, obviously the big bugbear in French is the tenses. I feel with grammar you've got to try to simplify. I have a series of grammar books at home I bought, just f or the fun of it, published by Dover. (You can Google and find them on the internet.) None of them is longer than 100 pages; they're very short descriptions of the grammar. That's the kind of book you need to have so that you can refer to the grammar from time to time because in most grammars there aren't that many issues. In fact, I think there's probably 10 or so.
When I went to learn Romanian, I made up 200 sentences in 20 different categories. I had someone translate them and record them and I listened to these patterns of all the different key issues over and over again to get used to how they say things because the issue is how do they say things in that language, rather than complicated grammar explanations or terms we can't deal with, although there are some terms that are useful. The fundamental 10 issues in any language are the following, in my view:
The issue of how they make statements, positive statements, negative statements and questions.
So in French it's [insert French] content. Again, I cognate, happy, [insert French]. I'm happy. [Insert French], I'm not happy. So double [insert French] sandwich the verb. You come across that very early and it seems strange at first, but very, very quickly you get used to it. A question [insert French]? [Insert French] asks the question or you can say [insert French]. So there are two ways of saying are you happy or anything else for that matter.
That's point number one, how do you make these positive or negative statements or how do you ask a question. Not necessarily in any order because verbs are kind of key, but you have to get used to what in English we call the ‘w' words: where, when, why, who, how come, which. Most of those in French start with a q: [insert French], etc. So you get used to those.
Y ou can save them if you're in LingQ, which I very much recommend you do, and if you save them in LingQ of course you get lots of examples. The examples come in two sections in LingQ, either from our library or from lesson you have already studied. The advantage of looking at examples from lessons you have already studied is that you probably know the words. Very often , if you're reading in a grammar book you look at examples, but you don't know the words. That's not so very helpful, so the ‘w' words.
Pronouns I think is another thing again. None of these things are you going to master up front, you just get exposed to them and you start seeing how they perform. So the sort of this, that, these and those words, you need to get used to those. The pronouns [insert French] and how they deal with yours, mine, my, to me. These are the kinds of things revolving around pronouns that you have to get used to.
Gender and number
There are languages, like Japanese, that have no gender, no number, but in French they have both and things like pronouns and adjectives have to agree, even verbs have to agree. What do I mean by agree? [Insert French], I'm a male, so [insert French]. If it was [insert French], she, [insert French], we put an e at the end. Notice how the pronunciation changes. [Insert French], you don't hear the t. That's another thing, by the way, that makes French difficult to understand and difficult to read because a lot of letters are not pronounced. [Insert French], by the way, s-u-i-s, the second s isn't pronounced. [Insert French], the last t isn't pronounced. If it's elle, the second l and the second e are kind of useless. But elle est all you hear is ‘e', the s and t aren't pronounced. [Insert French] because there's an e at the end we hear the t, otherwise we don't. You've got to get used to it. It seems like an awful lot upfront, as I say, but these are things that you can review over and over again if you have a little grammar book handy.
Also, because they have plural, so nous, we don't hear the s. Nous sommes, we are, [insert French]. If we're all male, we put an s at the end and we don't even hear it. But if it's the girls, elles, plural, [insert French]. It still sounds the same, but they've added an s at the end. However, sometimes the letters at the end that you can't hear you do hear if they are added on if there's a vowel starting the next word. The big thing in French pronunciation is carrying on the sound to the next word if it starts with a vowel. For example, I said [insert French].
Again, I'm just giving you an outline of some of the joys of French that you can look forward to. Remember, everything that seems strange and overwhelming at first, and I've experienced it in learning Chinese, Russian, you name it, you eventually get used to if you give yourself enough time with the language.
Very soon you'll discover that whereas in English we say I go, you go, he goes, only the ‘he goes' changes, in French every one of them changes. [Insert French]. You've just got to get used to it. It's very difficult to remember these conjugations, you can spend all kinds of time pouring over conjugation tables, in my experience it's a very unsatisfying thing to do because you forget them. You might remember them for tomorrow's test and then you forget them, so you constantly have to refer to them and then you see them in context. It's very easy nowadays, if you're on the computer you just Google French conjugations or conjugate the verb [insert French] or whatever. The same is true, by the way, with pronouns, adjectives. Anything you want to look at, you just Google and it will be there.
Of course there's a variety of tenses in French. I don't think their tenses are more difficult than our tenses are in English, but there are things there that you have to learn.
There are things like the conditional, like ‘would'. ‘I will' is the future. I will go tomorrow. I would go if… So there's a condition there. I would go if… The French instead of saying [insert French], I will go, they'll say [insert French], I would go if… You have to learn the endings by regularly reviewing them in tables, seeing them in context and so forth.
The subjunctive, which is a bit of a bugbear in romance languages, all that means is there are certain expressions like you have to go, I want you to go, although you went, etc. There are other examples where the verb has a different form. That's all I will say here because you can read the explanations. At first they won't make sense, but once you've seen them often enough the subjunctive will start to make sense and slowly you'll develop the habit of using the subjunctive form of the verb at the appropriate time.
We say the house which is on the hill. [Insert French], the house which we bought, that's how they form the relative clause. You've got to figure that out. There are some things they do differently. The French are not hungry or cold, they have hunger and they have cold. There are a few other things like that. Largely, it's a matter of getting used to it.
French, first of all, it is a lovely language. I hate to say this, but it's a bit of a prestigious language. There are countries, in Europe particularly and even now in Asia, where French is considered to be a prestigious language. It's not surprising because we have to remember that in the seventeenth and eighteenth century and a good part of the nineteenth century, France was one of the largest countries in terms of population in the world. France was quite a bit larger than Russia in terms of people (I don't remember the numbers) quite a bit larger than Britain and it was the dominant culture, dominant civilization.
There are so many goodies in French civilization in terms of writers, in terms of painters, in terms of simply visiting France, Paris or the south of France. There's a whole bunch of stuff there that you can access so much better if you speak French. Not to mention the fact that French is spoken in other countries like Canada.