Not another blog on learning beginner French

I created this blog for two reasons. First, I’ve always been struck by how well many French-speakers can express themselves in English, especially in North America but in Europe as well. On the other hand, native English-speakers who can speak impeccable French are very rare.

In my work as a language coach and workshop facilitator, I observe that most adult learners of French find speaking the language very difficult and frustrating. In fact, many people simply give up or remain stuck in some intermediate rut.

I regularly meet intelligent and educated people who have taken many courses over the years. They read newspapers, books and websites, listen to the radio and television and watch movies, all in French. Many also use language learning software. They can understand French pretty well, or so they claim. Sure, they can get by when they have to, but they are just not comfortable speaking the language.

In my opinion, the problem isn’t the language itself. It’s really how you go about learning it. I truly believe that given the right learning tools, the right environment and a good tutor or coach, all adults can learn to speak French very well. Of course, it requires a lot of work and time. But that’s true of learning most things.

Not wanting to add to the countless websites for beginners, I decided to create a space for intermediate and advanced adult learners of spoken French. A space where I can share the insights, musings and observations from my own experience as a learner and my work with adult learners.

My focus: speaking fluently, accurately and idiomatically

The second reason for creating this blog is my belief that if you are going to speak French, you should speak it well, just as speak your native language. I’m not a purist, but I hate to see a language mangled, as is often the case of French.

There are three aspects to speaking French well. You want to speak fluently, that is without too much hesitation and searching for words. Speaking must become automatic.

You want to speak accurately with good pronunciation and words in the right order and in the appropriate form. This means intuitive mastery of the grammar rules that determine how the words are put together.

Finally, you want to speak idiomatically by choosing the words and expressions that best communicate your message and are similar to what native speakers would use.

To help you accomplish all this, the content of this blog will revolve around four themes that make up what I call a multi-pronged approach to taking your French to the next level:

1. Analysis of samples of authentic spoken French. The emphasis will be on training the ear to decode real-life speech and on understanding how and why the words are put together the way they are.

I strongly encourage readers to look at the studies of real-live examples.

2. Learning to enhance your vocabulary using idiomatic expressions. Idioms and figurative speech are extremely important for impeccable French. I’ll be paying special attention to those mistakes caused by poor translations from English in to French.

3. Mastering points of grammar that make all the difference between so-called functional French and real mastery. French grammar can be tricky, and nuances very subtle.

4. Acquiring true fluency or ease of speaking with confidence and without undue hesitation or stuttering by working with good examples. Here we’ll also be looking at how to improve pronunciation and intelligibility.

I hope to show that the key to speaking French well is to understand how the various components work, whether it’s the vocabulary, the grammar or the sound system. When you understand the logic and the mechanics of the language, you see the patterns. The next step is to simply practice these key patterns, preferably in some form of immersion and with some guidance. And voilà, everything falls into place.

About the author

My name is Stanley Aléong and my academic background is anthropology, linguistics and computer science. I’ve taught and published articles or books in French and English in all three areas.

My particular interest in the learning of languages by adults stems from my personal experience of having learned all my other languages after the age of 18 and from a summer course I once gave on the subject at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

While there is no doubt that it is best to learn a language at an early age and in immersion, I truly believe that adults can achieve excellent results with the right methods.

My own strong languages are English, French, Spanish and Wolof (widely spoken in Senegal, West Africa, where I lived for a year and a half.) These are the languages where I feel most comfortable and am able to switch from one to the other pretty much seamlessly.

My weak languages are Italian, Russian and German that I have studied but neglected for lack of time. I can still make meaningful phrases but would be hard-pressed to hold a conversation.

My main area of interest is the acquisition of high-level spoken language proficiency. Currently, I spend much of my time coaching students in French, English and Spanish. I especially enjoy working with advanced students who want to reach the top. You can reach me at info@langcal.com

Here is the link to the Montreal French-English conversation meetup group that I help organize.

I am also the inventor of the language wall chart perpetual calendar, a learning tool that I have used with great results in all my languages.


About — 4 Comments

  1. Hello!
    I am an American living in New York with a passion for the French language.
    I stumbled across your website/blog today and I must tell you , I find it fascinating!
    I have “studied” French on my own for over twenty years and although I can read it very well and write it almost as well….I cannot hold a decent conversation in French. I have used hundreds of books, CDs,
    DVDs, internet sites, newspapers , etc and they have all helped me a great deal…but I still cannot speak the language on an impromptu basis.

    I recently hired a tutor/coach and we meet once a week on Skype for one hour ($50). I also have reached out to French pen pals and I have
    found someone who needed help learning English so we meet also on SKype and we teach each other our own respective languages.
    Although I realize that unless I immerse myself by actually living in a French speaking county I probably will never learn to speak the language fluently without having to stop, think about what I want to say, stop, think about the grammar rules, stop, think about the vocabulary to use,stop…….well, you get the idea!
    It is very frustrating.

    My question to you is this: Can one learn to speak fluently in French without having to actually live there amongst French natives if one “immerses” oneself in these self help books, CDs, etc and use a tutor once a week? I know this is not an easy question to answer but after reading your blogs I felt compelled to ask you this question. Many of the thoughts you wrote in your column are exactly what I am experiencing.

    Thank you for your time!

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Kevin. I’ll do a post on the subject shortly.

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