One of my pet peeves is when tourists go to a foreign country and don’t bother to learn single word of the language….especially American tourists since we already have a bad reputation for being boorish, uneducated thugs. But regardless of your nationality, it’s just a matter of being polite to at least learn how to say “Hello,” “Please,”and “Thanks;” and it’s quite important to be able to say you’re lost, ask where the bathrooms are, and (most important) how to order a beer.
Language Junkies Raise Your Hands
Now, I have to say, I get a bit obsessive over languages. I LOVE learning languages – possibly because they’re like the word & logic puzzles for which I’m a bit of a nerd. Before we went to Italy, I learned a fair amount of Italian, which was quite helpful since one of our hosts didn’t speak a word of English. And before we went to the Netherlands & Belgium, I learned some Dutch, which came in incredibly handy when one of the Belgian train stations only made announcements in Dutch (okay, Flemish). Had I not understood what was being said about a platform change, we may still have been sitting there waiting for our train.
Now we’re considering a trip to France in regions beyond Paris where all you have to do is say “Est-ce que vous parlez englais?” and the face of whoever you ask will light up as they start rambling on in perfect English (Despite saying they only know a little English). So, I’ve been cracking open the French grammar books, sorting out my verb tenses, and building up my vocabulary. After learning Italian, this is all somewhat easy since the languages are both Latin in origin and therefore follow many of the same rules.
What Did you Say?
This may come as a shock to anyone who studied French in school, but French is WAY easier than Italian. Written French that is. Spoken Italian follows very regular rules and it’s full of sounds most English speakers are familiar with. Not so with French. There’s loads of nasal bits and oodles of letters that aren’t pronounced (seriously, the French could save a lot of ink if they spelled words as they were spoken).
So, the key to trying to teach yourself French is to find a way to listen to it. Sure, there’s plenty of audio phrase guides, but these just teach you by rote and you don’t get a feel for the language…meaning, you don’t learn how to use the grammar and combine things to actually speak the language. Phrase guides also don’t give much real world listening practice, which you desperately need if you’re going to improve my French.
Coffee Break French – A Great Way to Learn
Coffee Break French is a podcast from the Radio Lingua Network. It’s presented by Mark, a Scotsman who has spent loads of time in France and speaks French like a native. He’s teaching Anna who is also Scottish and is pretty much a beginner with French.
Each season (I think they’re up to Season Four now), they spend 30 lessons going over vocabulary, idioms, and grammar in a way that really solidifies anything you’ve learned from books while also giving you a chance to hear how everything is pronounced (VERY helpful).
In the final 10 episodes of a season you get a wonderful listening challenge. In Season One, Mark and Anna took a trip to France and spoke to the locals; in Season Two Mark & Company put on a little radio play. Don’t worry, once the whole conversation is done, Mark goes over everything that was said. These listening exercises are challenging, but do let you see how much you have learned (and far you have to go!).
I’m still catching up, so I haven’t yet listened to Seasons Three or Four, but I’m really looking forward to them.
Best Bit – It’s Free!
Coffee Break French’s main episodes are entirely free. There are supplemental podcasts and downloadable exercises you can pay for. They’re certainly cheaper than taking a college class, but they’re still far out of my price range. Still, if the free lessons are any indication of quality, the paid lessons must be superb! So if you can afford it, I highly recommend giving them a try.
I will say, from the free podcasts, you won’t become a French master, but if you supplement the podcasts with a few French workbooks and by watching French language shows on occasion, you will see a significant improvement in your language skills.
So, if you’re keen to learn French, or just want to listen to people with Scottish accents speaking in French (which is actually quite entertaining), head on over to iTunes or the Radio Lingua website and get started with Coffee Break French.
Have a great weekend everyone! A bientot!
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TAMMIE PAINTER IS THE AUTHOR OF THE TRIALS OF HERCULES: BOOK ONE OF THE OSTERIA CHRONICLES AND AN ARTIST WHO DEDICATES HERSELF TO THE TEDIUM OF CREATING IMAGES WITH COLORED PENCILS.