March 1, 2011 | French

French Recovery Efforts Underway

I look forward to reviving some dead language skills.

I was very excited about Day 1 of French when I woke up. For one thing, French will be like a relaxing beach vacation after the rigors of Japanese! (Though actually, I am not all that big on relaxing beach vacations.)

By 8 a.m. I was already drinking a latte at Café Margot—which has a thematically appropriate French name as well as a nice French-speaking owner—and was making my way through a book called Complete French Grammar by Annie Heminway. At least to start out, I am using books from the same McGraw-Hill series that I have used for other European languages to date. I am fond of them, in part because they include many, many exercises, and I just love grammar drills.

Because I have some background in French, I decided to skip the first 30 lessons of the 100 that are available from Pimsleur for this language and begin with Level II instead. I studied French in college for a few years and did a small amount of work in it in graduate school when I was studying comparative literature. While I never was as good in French as in Spanish or German, I was reasonably proficient at one point.

Comfortably conversational, I would say. But having begun French later in life, and studied it over a shorter period of time, I forgot a lot more than I did of those other two languages.

My Bad-Ass Proctor

My Bad-Ass Proctor

Pimsleur Level II is a little basic, but there are so many basic things I don’t remember, and also, pronunciation has always been an issue for me in French, so I could use the practice. French really tangles my tongue. The main problem is those darn r’s. 

I decided to get myself tested in French, by my usual testing service Alta. I want to get retested after the two months I will be devoting to this language, to see how much I am able to improve in a short period of time. My prediction is that the improvement will be more pronounced than it was in Spanish or German.

I took Alta’s one-hour writing test before I went to bed, proctored by my usual proctor (my husband, Brandt), and scheduled an oral exam for tomorrow.

The last time French and I had regular contact was 20-something years ago. I am curious to see whether my sense that my French has decayed disproportionately is confirmed by my scores!

Comments (2)

Katherine • Posted on Mon, March 21, 2011 - 10:05 am EST

Hi Ellen!  I was wondering if you could give me the exact titles/authors of the French McGraw-Hill books you are using.  My google search is giving me too many options.  I studied French a long time ago and am trying to help a friend learn at complete beginner level.  I told him to get Pimsleur asap and that I would find him some textbooks. Merci!!!

One piece of advice- I started watching French movies right when I started learning French and I really feel like it helped me with my understanding and pronunciation.  The good thing about French is there aren’t so many variations as there are in Spanish.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, March 21, 2011 - 3:56 pm EST

Hello, Katherine! These are the three McGraw-Hill French books I have so far:

1. “Complete French Grammar” by Annie Heminway. I like it. I am not sure it is ideal for someone who is a complete beginner, but if this is not your friend’s first foreign language, it would be fine, I think.

2. “French Vocabulary” by Eliane Kurbegov. I am using it as a refresher, but I cannot recommend this book; I find the quality of the exercises poor.

3. “French Verb Tenses” by Trudie Maria Booth. I haven’t gotten far in this one, so I can’t comment on quality yet. There is a lot of overlap with “Complete French Grammar” in terms of issues covered, and it is a similar level. I plan to run through it shortly.

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