Speaking French–Repetition is key–Part 4

Oral repetition

In this last of a series of posts on the importance of repetition in developing one’s language skills I want to look at some strategies of oral repetition for practicing speaking.

The visual repetition tools we have looked at will help you memorize the many word forms you need. The listening repetition will train the ear for the sounds that you must recognize and eventually reproduce. Now the ultimate challenge is to take all those bits and pieces of words, phrases, grammar rules and meanings, open your mouth and sound great. Well, that’s the idea. It doesn’t always work that way.

The solution we will be studying here is oral repetition of good examples until they become second-nature. When combined with all the other things you are or should be doing, you will start quickly see good progress.

First thing, get a tutor

If you are serious about wanting to speak well, at some point you must use the services of a tutor. This doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment, and neither does it have to be expensive. It is a simple fact that by its very nature conversational French requires outside help.

The main role of the tutor in my opinion is to correct problems and bad habits that the learner may be unaware of. Pronunciations problems in particular can be quickly identified and corrected. In my own workshops I notice that people make very rapid progress once we identify the problem issues and how to correct them.

A sample dialog for oral repetition

To make this as practical as possible, I want to jump right away into a role-playing exercise I use in my Fluency and Accent Workshop. Here we have typical dialogue between employee (A) of a restaurant and the customer (B) who is calling to make a reservation :

1. A – Restaurant l’Express, bonjour, Pierre à l’appareil, Comment puis-je vous aider ?
2. B – Bonjour, Pierre, je voudrais faire une réservation pour ce soir?
3. A – D’accord. Pour combien de personnes et à quelle heure ?
4. B – Quatre personnes à 20 h.
5. A – D’accord. Laissez-moi juste vérifier. Un instant.
6. B – Allez-y.
7. A – C’est bon, j’aurais une table pour quatre ce soir à 20 h. C’est à quel nom ?
8. B – Monsieur Tounsi, T-O-U-N-S-I.
9. A – Très bien, Monsieur Tounsi. Vous avec un numéro de téléphone ?
10. B – Oui, bien sûr, je vous donne mon portable. C’est le 438-448-5676.
11. A – C’est noté. Monsieur Tounsi, pour quatre personnes. On vous attend donc ce soir à 20 h.
12. B – Merci beaucoup, vous êtes bien aimable.
13. A – Je vous en prie.

Step 1 : Slow repetitions

I read the dialog aloud a couple of times so that the student hears what it should sound like. We look at the grammar and vocabulary in detail to make sure that the student understands analytically what is being said and why. With more advanced students we can look at alternative wordings. In line 1 for example, we could use Ici Pierre, instead of Pierre à l’appareil.

I read the dialog again, then the student reads the entire dialog. We go over any pronunciation issues, especially things like the liaisons and word final consonants.

Step 2 : Reading the roles

I’ll be A and the student B. Looking at the text, we read the dialog a number of times concentrating on fluency and intonation. Fluency is the key focus here. We want to eliminate or attenuate any hesitation or time spent thinking about what to say next. We keep repeating the dialog and eventually increasing the speed until we can achieve something that is usable in real life. This means paying close attention to changes in pronunciation as we speed up.

Then we switch roles and do the same thing over again.

Step 3 : Repeating the dialog without the text

After a certain number of repetitions the student will know some of the dialog by heart. If not, they at least know the general idea : how to make a restaurant reservation over the telephone. If the student doesn’t remember the exact wording, that’s fine ; we can improvise.

Fluency often takes a hit here because the learner will start to hesitate while thinking about how to say things the right way. What we don’t want to do is get bogged down or stuck. I don’t want to hear : Comment dit-on… ?

This is where it’s useful to show how to use fillers and conversation markers to eliminate dead time while one is thinking of what to say next. I often say: Don’t stop talking or say ‘Uh’ for a few seconds; say D’accord, très bien, je vois and then you can pause a bit while you’re forming the right verb form in your head.

Then we switch roles.

Step 4 : Improvising with more complex interactions

When people have to talk without the text, there will inevitably some variation. This is to be welcomed if the student can handle it. The purpose of the exercise isn’t to memorize the dialog ; the goal is to learn how to communicate in a given situation.

For example, the time of the reservation and the number of people will usually change. Then we can introduce all kinds of variations. Let’s say the restaurant is full this evening but there is availability tomorrow. There is availability earlier this evening but you have to leave by 8 :30 pm. A regular customer is recognized by the restaurant employee. Will the customer be coming by car and may need parking ? The customer wants to be served by a certain waiter. Do they want a specific table ? Are there special dishes today that are not on the web site ? What time does the kitchen close ?

For example, to enquire about the kitchen closing time, the dialog could go like this :

B – Et la cuisine ferme à quelle heure ?
A – Elle ferme à 23 heures.
B – Je vois. Donc, si on arrive à 22 heures, c’est bon.
A – Tout à fait, tout à fait.

The next step : transposing to a other situations

Something I like to do is show how many of the elements that we have mastered in one context can be easily transposed to another. For example, suppose we want to make a medical appointment. This situation has certain things in common with our restaurant reservation context.

This is where all the efforts of memorization through analytical visual and listening repetition come into play. When all this is done right, you should have a bunch of phrases, verb forms and various components that you can put together quickly to handle any situation.

As I like to say often, this kind of French is not difficult. All the French grammar in the above examples should be familiar. No passé composé, no subjunctive, no fancy prepositions or pronouns, no pronominal verbs, no technical vocabulary. It’s all very straight-forward. There’s not much to think about. The storyline is very simple : a restaurant reservation for four people or a medical appointment. Things can go in various directions of course, but it’s still pretty ordinary language unless you decide to make it more complex.

Given that the language is so simple, you can concentrate on fluency pronunciation and building self-confidence. Speaking must become something of a automatic reflex.This will go a long way toward solving the problem that I address specifically in my fluency workshop : French-speakers switching to English when speaking with you. If your accent is decent and the wording idiomatic, there is no reason for the other person to switch to your native language. In fact, you don’t give them any choice.

Related Posts

1. How to use the real-life examples.

Stanley Aléong is a polyglot, author, musician, language coach in French, English and Spanish, language workshop facilitator and organizer of French-English conversation meetups in Montreal, Canada. He likes to share his passion for languages and believes that anybody can learn to speak a foreign language well with the right methods and tools. He has also invented a cool visual learning tool called the Essential French Wall Chart Calendar. Reach him at info@fluentfrenchnow.com.

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