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Apprendre le franšais

Posted 09-13-2014 at 03:31 PM by rocket357

Just call me the projects guy. I can always seem to start projects, but rarely actually finish them =)

I picked up learning French again, primarily because I want to be able to read Descartes in his native tongue, but also because I started learning French in high school and never seemed to get far with it. "Je ne parle pas le franšais couramment", I believe is the primary phrase I remember from high school, sadly (among others that aren't suitable for print, even on the internet).

I'd like to actually change that, and get to a point where I can fluently read French. I don't necessarily care to *speak* French, or understand spoken French, I just want to read and write French. Eventually I'd like to learn other languages as well, Spanish in particular (seems more useful in the States), and perhaps someday I will get to the point that I can read, say, religious texts in their original languages. But for now, I just want to read Descartes (and perhaps Pascal).

I started messing around with DuoLingo's android app a while back, and then finally setup an account on their website to do a deep dive into French. I don't want this to turn into a sales pitch, but I will say that I really like DuoLingo. I think I've made more progress in a few weeks of DuoLingo than I did in a year of French in high amazing feat for a free app! Perhaps that's a *bit* biased, but I'm ok with admitting that. My high school French teacher Madame Barton may feel otherwise, though.

According to DuoLingo, I know just over 300 words in French, and people I've talked to have estimated that to read Descartes I'll need a vocabulary of 1,200 - 1,400 words. I can't quote the sources used to come up with those numbers, but I'll use that as a starting point, I suppose. So, understandably, I have my work cut out for me. Since DuoLingo allows me to adjust the game types (I can remove the questions that ask me to speak or understand spoken French, so it's all written), I can focus on my particular needs for learning other languages. I really like that. I keep track of new languages on DuoLingo's incubator, and I'm looking forward to picking up a few other of the beta languages as well.

I read "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" a while back, and in it is a discussion on learning foreign languages. Mr. Franklin says that he first learned modern languages (French, Italian, and Spanish, IIRC), which lead to a greater understanding of Latin when he approached learning Latin. I believe I will follow in his footsteps and learn modern languages before diving into Aramaic, ancient Greek, etc... I suppose it would be difficult to definitively test which approach is better (since we haven't figured out how to "unlearn" languages, we can only approximate an answer with a formal double-blind type of study where one group learns modern languages first and another learns Latin first). But I digress.

At any rate, it's been said that the end goal isn't so important as simply making incremental progress towards said goal, so while I have a massive project laid out before me, I think I might have enough lifespan left to achieve it (though I may have to devote considerable time to it after retirement haha). Time will tell.
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  1. Old Comment

    If you have some knowledge of French (for instance, you understand its grammar and syntax and know certain number of words) you can start reading texts you find interesting to acquire more vocabulary and get even more familiar with its structure.

    That's pretty much how I learned English. I learned the basics in high school; then, when I was studying my first degree at uni, I found a job in a library where I had to read academic texts in English in order to write their abstracts for the library's database. Even though with my basic knowledge of English at the time I struggled to understand it's structure at the beginning and to learn many words I didn't know, it was an excellent way to improve my knowledge of English (written English, at least).

    Good luck with learning French!
    Posted 09-14-2014 at 05:04 AM by Hungry ghost Hungry ghost is offline
  2. Old Comment
    That truly sounds like the best way to learn, odiseo77. The balance I'm trying to find is being able to actually read a decent chunk of a paragraph (for instance) without having to perform a dictionary look up every other word...but I agree that real-world reading is the best path to learning to read a language. So at this point I do have a reasonable grasp on French, but I don't know enough vocabulary to read a bit without looking everything up. I tried a few paragraphs of "Discours De La Methode", and found that I was looking everything up, so perhaps I'll try again soon once I've completed a bit more of DuoLingo.
    Posted 09-14-2014 at 02:37 PM by rocket357 rocket357 is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Yeah, it's hard at the beginning, and starting with Descartes must be even harder. I don't know about DuoLingo since I've never used it, but something that has worked for me -- apart from my first readings of academic texts in English I mentioned before -- is reading texts I am interested in that are not necessarily too complex (for instance, news, short stories, internet fora, lyrics, etc).
    Posted 09-14-2014 at 03:34 PM by Hungry ghost Hungry ghost is offline
  4. Old Comment
    I've read Descartes in English, so I'm hoping it won't be too much trauma to attempt reading his work in French =)

    And DuoLingo has an interesting feature once you hit ~300 words or so that they have an "immersion" program where you can translate news articles, wikipedia articles, etc... from the app as practice. I haven't used that much yet, but I'll probably start doing that soon.

    Thanks for your advice!
    Posted 09-14-2014 at 09:17 PM by rocket357 rocket357 is offline
  5. Old Comment
    Thanks for the information on DuoLingo. I will look it up.

    I disagree with Mr. Franklin's assessment of Latin. I would argue that an understanding of Latin leads to a better understanding of the Romance languages as well as English. Of course I wouldn't try to to forget any languages I've already learned just so I could learn Latin first and test the theory.
    Posted 09-15-2014 at 09:05 AM by vmccord vmccord is offline
  6. Old Comment
    It's like asking whether you like a top-down approach or a bottom-up approach. Each has its advantages. Latin would be the "big picture" approach, I suppose.
    Posted 09-15-2014 at 10:42 AM by rocket357 rocket357 is offline


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