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Angie
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I have been trying very very hard to learn French over the past 8 years or so with little success.  Strangely the limited amount of language I learnt at school some 40 years ago has stayed with me but I just can't seem to retain anything I am learning these days. 

I have tried a GSCE French grammer course, Michel Thomas CD's which I've listened to over and over again.  I struggle through dual language books, buy French newspapers (which take me a month to read!) and generally go through the dictionary trying to learn helpful words and phrases.  On our regular visits I practice at every opportunity but I find it difficult to make myself understood and in turn I find understanding the replies impossible.  It is becoming increasingly worrying for me because we are hoping to retire to France in 2 years time and it will be down to me to learn because my OH is rapidly losing his hearing. 

Does anyone have any advice as to what has worked for them.  Does it become easier once you are actually living in the country?  Very few locals speak English so I am not able give up easily - its just very frustrating.  I'm sure some people are just not geared up or intelligent enough to learn a new language and I'm one of them!  Any advice would be much appreciated.

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I don't believe that language learning is a question of

intelligence....even some footballers manage to grunt a version of their

native language.

It is simply a question of repetition and habit

I think Chancer is a good example of someone who has made enormous progress in French simply by immersing himself in the language and not using English.

As you are in a couple that will not be so easy.

I found that using an answer-phone and repeatedly listening to messages that I couldn't understand that first time (sometimes as many as 10 times) was a great help with aural comprehension, as was comparing radio/TV news with what I saw written in the newspapers.  That helps you 'put a face ' to the words you hear..

I also bought French translations of detective novels I already knew in English a found out 'oh that is how they say that in French'

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I find when teaching French to adults that a few things come into play.

- Many people are actually better than they think. It's a question of confidence when it comes to speaking

- Often, our "adult" need to understand every word overrides the reality, which is that we need to understand the gist of what's being said, or read, not every single word. It also inhibits our ability to speak, because we start by thinking what we'd say in English and try to translate that. What we should be doing is accepting that, at least for some time, we're going to be speaking French like a ten year old, and we have to use the vocabulary we've got, rather than the vocabulary we'd like to have!

- If what you remember from school is primarily the basic grammar, you're already well on the way, as long as you can conjugate four basic verbs so well that you could do it in your sleep. Those four verbs are être, avoir, aller and faire. With those, you can make most of the tenses that you need and also conjugate all the other verbs in the basic past and future tenses.

If you can bear it, try listening to the radio in French as much as possible. That'll help you practice listening to French being spoken at normal speed and it's also a "worst case scenario" because listening without physical clues such as body language or facial expression means you have to listen really hard to understand. Something like French Radio London in the UK (available online or on DAB in Greater London) [url]http://www.frenchradiolondon.com/[/url] is an option, but other French stations are available online, as are some TV stations.

Also, don't always make learning a chore. Try finding games and things online, check out the BBC languages website, or try www.imagiers.net, which is probably the least user-friendly website on earth, but persevere and you can find some good stuff.

Another thing worth a look is LCF magazine [url]http://www.lcf-magazine.fr/[/url] which has articles you can read and listen to at the same time.

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all the above advice is excellent. Another tip, listen to some French radio, if you can get it. Listen to, say, the news every hour. The first time you hear it then it's gobbledy-gook ... an hour later it's still just a stream of language, but continue. The news rarely changes throughout the day so the same key words and phrases keep coming up. By the fourth or fifth time of hearing the same (or pretty much the same) thing you will start to separate the words. You may not understand them, but you are 'hearing' them and getting your ear in. It really is just practice and repetition.

Learning the basic verbs is a must. There's some excellent French language websites and tutorials online. But don't stress yourself, the fact that you are trying to learn is sufficient. Reachng out and trying in French is the first step - people will help you and assist. And asking French people to speak slower is perfectly OK too.

You probably know more French than you think you do. Don't stress on understanding every word ... if you can get the 'gist' of something you're halfway there. But being in the country does make it easier as you are surrounded by the language and better able to immerse yourself in it.

Good luck .. we've all been there. Don't lose your confidence, be prepared to make awful clangers (I've asked a farmer if I could borrow a cabe to trap the prostitute that lives in my loft .. rather than the polecat!). The language will come, eventually - you'll probably never be fluent but just making the effort to 'get by' is cmmendable. Keep going, stay positive!
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You can also buy DVDs of French films with English subtitles, which, even though the subtitles are not literal translations, give the sense of what is being said.

You can rewind and listen to bits you didn't understand, or just watch the same film repeatedly if it is a good one.

If you look for older films they are not expensive. For example we just bought a double pack of "Jean de Florette" and "Manon des Sources" for £9.42, including postage, from Amazon.

We bought it from Amazon UK, but it was posted from France, and arrived the following day!

 

 

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[quote user="5-element"]Great, great post Betty. If only all those who need it, could and would read and apply it... (not referring to people on this forum, but to some of the non-French speakers I know personally)

[/quote]

Thanks, 5-E. I do think, if people only learned those four basic verbs, they'd have such a solid start...but my experience is that so many don't even bother to do that, yet it's not a huge ask. I remember not long ago teaching a bloke who spent at least a quarter of every lesson telling me (in English) how absolutely serious he was about learning French, and I asked him to learn those 4 verbs, then a week or so later I asked him what the past participle of avoir was and after a minute of thinking he replied "Err....aller?"

Another trick which is useful, IMO, is to employ strategies for learning numbers randomly, mainly because I can't honestly think of many occasions in life where anyone is going to expect you to understand or say numbers in numerical order. If you're learning alone, take a pack of cards and shuffle them, imagining that the ace is 1 and the face cards have a value of 10. then deal them out one by one, or get a friend or partner to deal them out to you. Say the number out loud each time...initially that'll just get you from 1 to 10. For some inexplicable reason, 90% of my students seem to confuse 4 and 5, 14 and 15 etc. Anyway, once you can shout out 1 to 10 quite fast, start dealing the cards one by one but adding the sum of each card as you go along. You can, with bigger numbers, also try reading out car number plates as you are driving along (not so interesting now, with the newer format!) and also reading the numbers on a page of the phone book...remembering that French phone numbers are conveniently carved up into groups of two numbers, so that takes you up to 99...

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[quote user="Mary W"]I have been trying very very hard to learn French over the past 8 years or so with little success.  [/quote]

Whilst we were still in the UK my OH tried very hard to learn some French. He is one of these people for whom learning French at school really did not work so, whilst his efforts aged 50+ were genuine, the results were minimal. He tried Michel Thomas, amongst others - and loved the course.

Fast forward to our first year fulltime in France and I had to do everything associated with using French from phone calls, filling in forms to deciphering what we needed in the DIY dept. Now - 8 years on - and OH chatters away. He still makes dreadful bloomers and fairly frequently gets the wrong end of the stick when he is told something but he manages very well overall. The difference is that he has friends who do not speak English, or who speak/understand a minimum at most, so he has had to listen to what they are saying. His biggest fear was asking them to repeat something or explain something ... as he was not sure he would understand the explanation. But that, I feel, is the key; not being afraid to ask.

As Betty says go with the flow and get the gist of what is being said. When you hear it often enough it will sink in and, eventually, stick.

Sue

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[quote user="nomoss"]

You can also buy DVDs of French films with English subtitles, which, even though the subtitles are not literal translations, give the sense of what is being said.

You can rewind and listen to bits you didn't understand, or just watch the same film repeatedly if it is a good one.

If you look for older films they are not expensive. For example we just bought a double pack of "Jean de Florette" and "Manon des Sources" for £9.42, including postage, from Amazon.

We bought it from Amazon UK, but it was posted from France, and arrived the following day!

[/quote]

I take a slightly different approach as I watch French films (and TV programs) with French subtitles.  The simultaneous hearing and reading works for me.  I'm especially pleased when I detect that the speech and written words do not exactly agree and have been known to exclaim 'that's not what they said !!'

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Years ago I bought a book by one Colin Corder: "Some of My Best Friends are French: How to Get by in the Language and on with the Natives".

It witty yet sensible, and brilliant in reassuring you that you know more French than you think you do. Corder encourages you to get confident with a few conversational phrases -about the weather, say - and then use them to talk to many different individuals rather than try to sustain a lengthy conversation with one person.

I always thought it would be an excellent way to gain confidence in speaking the language.

Sadly Corder died soon after the book's publication, and it is now out of print, but I see it is still available second-hand if you search on Amazon.

Angela
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You have made me smile Betty, as some english speaking adults I came across in France spoke far worse french than they would suggest, in fact they would say that they spoke good french and I know that they didn't. Me, not being very talented at languages either, y compris english.

And re learning the main four verbs.

Being of little brain, it took me a week to learn 'etre' in the present. I had no idea what all those other things on the page of my bescherel were, obviously nothing to do with me[Www]. And for some reason, even though I was quite a young woman at the time, I had imagined that learning 'je suis' et al was some sort of magic key which would unlock 'french' and once I had learnt 'etre' in the present, I'd suddenly be able to speak french.

And once I had mastered 'etre' in the present, I remember well, my husband picking up the bescherel and putting his thumb on the pages and letting them flip very quickly and, I must not add, not unkindly, said that I only had the rest to learn now. I never did ofcourse, and still would not know how to use half the conjugaisons on the 'etre' page.

So to the OP. I would say yes, the radio, BUT,  if you have Sky or Virgin, watch TV5 Monde on tv. All in french and there are some good programs on it. In some ways it is better than the radio, because you can often see what is happening too, and I found it helped.

As you know, one soon masters, un petit-batard or deux tranches de jambon blanc SVP. Then just keep on trying, always remembering that you'll make some big horrible mistakes and eventually learn from them. Simply just keep talking. I was always forgiven my butchering of the french language and still am[:$]

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Just to let you know. You are not the only one.

We have lived here for over 7 years and I still have a lot to learn. My other half is better as she attends weekly lessons with a mix of French and English people. My excuse is spending the past 5 years working in the UK and only getting to France once every 3rd weekend.

My daughter however, despite her having Cerebral Palsy and Autism, became so fluent in French after just 6 months that the French don't realise that she is English. Clever girl if I say so myself. The odd thing is though that she has the two languages running parallel. She can speak either but doesn't have to translate in her head.

You will get there in time and may be surprised at how much English the French secretly know.

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My "best friend" was just talking to me about this yesterday. She's lived here since 1990 and worries that she still can't carry on a decent conversation with the locals.

She's a very sociable person, and the locals like her and trust her, so I say not to worry. She can communicate.

I don't think she could ever sit down and learn a french verb, she doesn't have the educational background (ie what's a verb? what's 1st 2nd 3rd person?)

With someone like her, I think the main thing to learn is vocabulary, rather than grammar.

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[quote user="Guile"]Y ou will get there in time and may be surprised at how much English the French secretly know.  [/quote]

... though they can often be reluctant to display their knowledge, in that they are terrified of making an error. Perhaps a hangover from their schooldays when the rule was ' only answer if you are 100% sure you know the correct answer. ' Which meant that most of the time the pupils were too scared to put up their hand, not being the requisite 100% positive about their response .

Sue

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Once we had had the good sense to move somewhere in France, where no one spoke english, then my french improved. That new friends who are now very old friends subsequently were found many years later, to have more than a smattering is just how it should have been.

And translating as one speaks and learns?

 Don't the words we 'know' just come naturally and the rest well, initially we translate, but then as we learn more they are simply part of our vocabularly too. Isn't that how we learn?

I cannot remember doing other than that, and frankly because of our quick move to France and no french apart from a very few words, I'm sure that I wasn't translating every last word all the time. Maybe the old memory is failing?

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Like in so many other aspects of life some people take to things naturally - learning to speak French for instance - whilst others will never get it however hard they might try.

You can liken it to driving a car, some are complete naturals from the moment they first sit in the drivers seat and pass their test first time on their 17th birthday with little or no formal training while others take years, spend thousands in lessons,  fail the test multiple times, and then are still crap drivers even when they do eventually fluke a pass.

We are all different and as well intentioned and genuine the advice here is it's completely subjective and ultimately you have to find what what works for you.

One thing is beyond question, if you plan to stay in France speaking the lingo is an absolute must.

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99.999% of people are complete naturals at learning their first language.

Babies and children never say, I give up, its much harder for me than other people, they are born with a survival instinct.

I firmly believe that if a man (or woman) is hungry enough they will find a way to eat.

And for the remaining 0.001%

Like 99% of like people are like complete naturals like at like learning their like first language like innit?

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But I'm in no way a natural, it was hard. I soon learned the key words, but getting them into a sentence took me a long time and some might say and with reason that I still haven't mastered it even half properly.

[:D]  And if you insist on mentioning food, well, I certainly knew all the key words for food rather quickly, so you are right there!

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I want to thank you all for your really supportive emails - several suggestions are new to me and I will definitely be giving them a go.  I think trying to get the gist of what is being said is spot on and I will also try this in future rather than beating myself up because I'm not understanding the whole conversation. 

Your comments have made me feel more positive about my ability (maybe I do know more than I think I do) and will try and enjoy learning French rather than thinking of it as a chore.  We are spending an extended holiday over there this summer so will get the radio on in the background and listen to a few news channels!!

Thanks again all; its nice to know its not just me!

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Hi----I appreciate your problem : I was hopeless at French A Level at school, my worst A level subject.

When we moved to France 4 years ago, all my old memories of the grammar and sentence structure came back ; and vocabulary came faster than I had imagined.

My wife spoke no French at all, not even at school.

The brief answer to your question , in our humble opinions , is  : move to France and if you mix with locals daily you'll be fluent within 6 months if you've had any A Level experience; and within 12 months if you've never learned any French previously.

The best way to master the language----the ONLY way-----is to live in France full-time.

And isn't it a beautiful language ? [:)]

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[quote user="Ron Bolus"]

Hi----I appreciate your problem : I was hopeless at French A Level at school, my worst A level subject.

When we moved to France 4 years ago, all my old memories of the grammar and sentence structure came back ; and vocabulary came faster than I had imagined.

My wife spoke no French at all, not even at school.

The brief answer to your question , in our humble opinions , is  : move to France and if you mix with locals daily you'll be fluent within 6 months if you've had any A Level experience; and within 12 months if you've never learned any French previously.

The best way to master the language----the ONLY way-----is to live in France full-time.

And isn't it a beautiful language ? [:)]

[/quote]

What is this utter nonsense RB. I was young when I moved to France, late 20's (which feels very young now, looking back), which one should imagine gave me an advantage, even though I had no french, it took me years to get any where near 'fluent'. And I use 'fluent' in a very  very fluid way, as I speak french like a vache espagnole and don't like using the word 'fluent' at all.

And A levels, well, I'll tell you, when I first moved to France I found myself in a city where there were lots of UK students, studying french and from UK universities and it was not their first year at uni. Were most of them anywhere near fluent???? not on your life they weren't. They had had good A levels and perhaps they could write well, but even with my lousy french at the time, I had to help them with everyday stuff.

 I do know people, non french, who are fluent, but they don't say it, they speak brilliant french. I have no idea what fluent means to be honest. My kids were born and brought up in France, and yet even the one who still lives in France still has 'holes' in his french. When someone says they are 'fluent' then I do wonder about their french. 

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