A skill that is an instant hit with employers is the ability to speak a foreign language. What’s more, this skill becomes all the more impressive if this ability is self taught and extraneous to your degree. The skills required to achieve fluency in a foreign language are far from trivial. Aside from the ability to learn effectively, you need discipline, creativity, communication skills, time management and a certain amount of intelligence.
For the past year now, I have had the goal of learning french. Well, actually, it was more of a wish as opposed to a goal. I hadn’t really created a concrete plan to achieve my aspiration, I hadn’t ascertained what success looked like, nor had I invested as much time as is required to generate the kind of results I hoped for.
This has changed somewhat in the past couple of weeks. I have set myself the concrete target of reaching C1 proficiency within 6 months. C1 proficiency is defined as:
- Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning.
- Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
- Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
- Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
This appears to be a tall order, but I have a few tricks in my armoury.
The temptation is when learning a new language is to search for a magic bullet, a method that will propel you into being a fluent garlic eating, beret wearing, cigarette smoking and boules playing frenchman (no stereotypes were harmed in the making of this blog). Such a thing does not exist, and searching for such a method probably represents procrastination. The key is, as with anything, to just do something then adjust your course along the way.
They say the key to learning any foreign language is immersion. This obviously could be an issue as I am currently in sunny Bury, which is about as french as black pudding. However, it is time to get creative. I am going to create myself a “virtual immersion” environment. This makes my language learning strategy the following:
1) Brainscape vocab app & Anki flashcards – Vocabulary is obviously a key component of any language learning endeavour. In order to express yourself correctly, you need to have the tools to do so. Words represent these tools. The brainscape french vocabulary app for iPhone is a great little tool to improve your vocabulary. It has approximately 2000 words on the system. It is said that if you understand the commonest 2000 words of a language you will be able to comprehend up to 80% of any interaction in that language. This is a great motivator as 2000 isn’t a massive number of words. Anki is a free flashcard system for your computer. This system enables you to create your own flashcards and cycle through them to learn. I have populated flashcards with useful french phrases and will cycle through these to learn them. Having a number of fall-back phrases is key when talking as you can use them as default to sound fluent.
2) Michel Thomas, Advanced French – Michel was a Polish prisoner of war and WW2 investigator. Due to his travels across Europe, Michel is fluent in French, German and English amongst other languages. He pioneered his own method of language learning delivered through audio books and courses. The method emphasises speaking above all else, and his course provides shortcuts to sounding grammatically perfect whilst speaking. French places heavy emphasis on the endings of words, and these are noticeably different in the written form. However, whilst speaking, the sounds follow familiar patterns. If you learn these sounds, you can sound fairly good!
3) Material in French – the issue with learning french in school is the teacher’s insistence in reading, writing and talking about politics and the issue of drugs in modern society. Now, I am not particularly interested in this in English, let alone French! A better tactic would be to seek out material you would read naturally in english in french. There are a few ways of doing this. I have created a separate twitter account, where I follow only french news outlets and interesting french people. I have imposed on myself an english news ban – if I want to know what is going on, I have to locate the piece of news from a french source and read about it in french. The premier league, thankfully, is followed worldwide and there are many good french twitter accounts dedicated to covering the premier league.
Also, there are plenty of french programmes on YouTube – including my favourite, Peppa Pig! Cartoons are a prime way to get introduced to a foreign language. My daughter watches Peppa Pig in english, and it represents one of the better children’ offerings as the characters actually talk properly. The same can be said in french – the characters speak clearly and properly, allowing me to hear good french that is at a level I can understand.
French films are also a good way to learn. There are some aspects of them that are difficult to follow, for instance, they tend to use plenty of colloquialisms which can be difficult to understand. This probably represents how french is spoken socially, so it is an aspiration to understand a french film totally. My favourite so far – Mesrine: Killer Instinct. Available on Netflix.
4) Talking with locals – The issue with being in Manchester is that there aren’t too many identifiable french people to start a conversation with. Enter iTalki. This website is a social media offering for language learners. It connects you with either professional language teachers, or people willing to participate i a language exchange – you teach them your native language in exchange for their expertise in their own native language. This website is fantastic, and I am only just starting to get to grips with it.
5) Digital Immersion – One of the final steps I have taken is to change the settings on the websites and digital products I use most often. That means my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and iPhone are now all in french. I am now constantly exposed to the french language, and if I want to chieve anything, I have to use my skills in french to do so. This constant exposure is simulating a french immersion environment.
It is not perfect, but my 5 steps are a creative way of creating an immersion environment. The slight change in lifestyle requires a little discipline, but it will be worth it!
Why not showcase your language learning on Kloodle? Post a video soliloquy? Wrote a blog in your target language? I will be uploading a video diary of the three days the Tour de France is in the UK – keep your eyes peeled. Join now –