Newbie Acquiring French [Will my method work?]

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Re: Newbie Acquiring French [Will my method work?]

Postby Cavesa » Sat Apr 03, 2021 7:35 pm

Cainntear wrote:
lysi wrote:
Mr Dastardly wrote:Plus keeping in mind the learning/acquiring distinction that linguists talk about, I was under the impression that learning grammar rules was less effective than acquiring them through practice

I can understand why you would be under this impression given the absurdly large popularity of Krashen online (in part, it seems, because of its diametric opposition to the 'grammar study' done in language learning in schools), but the distinction between learning/acquisition is not universally accepted and is contested for many reasons. For example, Krashen does not ever explain what the process of acquisition actually is, nor as to why learned information is not accessible as acquired information would be.

Agreed, and it's worse than that: no-one who supports Krashen's views can demonstrate empirically why a significant percentage of successful learners have done formal grammar study, and huge numbers of immigrants never fully "acquire" the language correctly despite living decades in a native-speaking environment.
They just wave their hands and say "affective filter" and "speaking their native language at home".


Yes, this is so well worded. I'd just add that these people also use a very commonly spread straw man. When someone suggests explicit learning of the grammar, they pretend as if that meant memorising rules without their application. As if the grammarbooks for learners (which are usually very user friendly books with tons of practical examples these days) were the same as the grammarbooks for linguists at universities.

They use the bad name of grammar learning (which is often mixed with traumatising experiences from schools) to push their idea forward. They usually do not really prove anything (all of the studies I've seen had ridiculously small samples, bias in methodology, and not adressed issues with both the sample and the experiment), they just consider every learner without a hate for coursebooks to be just a dumb traditionalist sheep, bound to failure. I've even seen a few tell me that my success was not affected by grammar books, as if those had been just some sort of a placebo, which is complete nonsense.

All the successful learners I've ever met (online and offline) had used some combination of explicit learning and tons of input. There may be a few people, who can succeed with only one of the two components (I think we have a few examples in this community, I think Serpent does extremely well with "just" lots of input, if remember well). But the amount of badly speaking immigrants (those without the "grammarbook component") and the amount of "failed" classroom learners (usually those not bothering with tons of input, therefore without the second component, who are unable to use the knowledge in real life) shows that most people very probably need both.
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Re: Newbie Acquiring French [Will my method work?]

Postby lysi » Sat Apr 03, 2021 8:08 pm

Cainntear wrote:Agreed, and it's worse than that: no-one who supports Krashen's views can demonstrate empirically why a significant percentage of successful learners have done formal grammar study, and huge numbers of immigrants never fully "acquire" the language correctly despite living decades in a native-speaking environment.

It's not a perfect example and certainly contestable, given the insufficient studies done on the subject (at least from my reading on the subject, perhaps there have been more recently), but the Canadian French Immersion system is an interesting case of this. Almost no need to produce the language, only time speaking in French is when responding to a teacher or speaking to classmates in the classroom (and not even then, since, as shown by the image below, the use of English when talking with classmates is actually higher than French), and of course in these cases the context can fill in for any mistake.

Image
The full study is: Mougeon, R., Rehner, K., & Nadasdi, T. (2004). The learning of spoken French variation by immersion students from Toronto, Canada.

Cainntear wrote:Only production, and more specifically only speaking, makes every gap and mistake in your learning clear and obvious enough to motivate your brain to learn it right.


I have to disagree with the focus on speaking because I would say that writing in chatrooms would work almost exactly the same as speaking, considering it's basically just speaking with your keyboard.
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Re: Newbie Acquiring French [Will my method work?]

Postby Le Baron » Sat Apr 03, 2021 8:24 pm

lysi wrote:I have to disagree with the focus on speaking because I would say that writing in chatrooms would work almost exactly the same as speaking, considering it's basically just speaking with your keyboard.

Yes, and often it's all some people can get in less common languages or if your Ln choice is not widely spoken where you are. The only difference I'd note is that it relieves you of actual oral production, which is a fairly crucial factor to actual speaking.

Cavesa wrote:All the successful learners I've ever met (online and offline) had used some combination of explicit learning and tons of input. There may be a few people, who can succeed with only one of the two components (I think we have a few examples in this community, I think Serpent does extremely well with "just" lots of input, if remember well). But the amount of badly speaking immigrants (those without the "grammarbook component") and the amount of "failed" classroom learners (usually those not bothering with tons of input, therefore without the second component, who are unable to use the knowledge in real life) shows that most people very probably need both.

That seems to me totally right. The hard devotees of 'acquisition' don't seem to fully consider that some people are also visual learners or thrive on learning how parts work, rather than just absorbing and mimicking.

Input is very important, if we were sculptors we could just dump as much clay on the table as we want; unless we have some idea of what to do with it, it's just a pile of clay. Not all the knowledge of how to use a language come from just exposure. Not for everyone.
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Re: Newbie Acquiring French [Will my method work?]

Postby Cainntear » Sat Apr 03, 2021 11:05 pm

Lisa wrote:
Cainntear wrote:Only production, and more specifically only speaking, makes every gap and mistake in your learning clear and obvious enough to motivate your brain to learn it right.


Hmmm, why only speaking?

Because when you're writing you have more time to think things through, and you can think about things in a different order, which can lead to failure to acquire correct word order.

If you're trying to write "I do it", you can think "je fais le" before you've finished writing "je", and then correct the order to "je le fais" without even noticing you've done it. What that means is that you have a successful strategy for getting the result you're looking for, and yet you are still training your brain to do the wrong thing. I've seen lots of people who can write the right thing, but still can't recall the language in the correct order to speak.
I find I can happily speak bad German by munging sounds (is it konnte or könnte? ein or eine? ), and I am understood (at least I think so!); but when I write I'm forced to commit to writing it a specific way, and then can see (or check) if it's right or wrong.

Well if you do it deliberately, you know you're doing it. The big danger lies in developing flawed strategies and being blind to the flaws.
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Re: Newbie Acquiring French [Will my method work?]

Postby PeterMollenburg » Tue Apr 06, 2021 6:14 am

Cavesa wrote:
Cainntear wrote:
lysi wrote:
Mr Dastardly wrote:Plus keeping in mind the learning/acquiring distinction that linguists talk about, I was under the impression that learning grammar rules was less effective than acquiring them through practice

I can understand why you would be under this impression given the absurdly large popularity of Krashen online (in part, it seems, because of its diametric opposition to the 'grammar study' done in language learning in schools), but the distinction between learning/acquisition is not universally accepted and is contested for many reasons. For example, Krashen does not ever explain what the process of acquisition actually is, nor as to why learned information is not accessible as acquired information would be.

Agreed, and it's worse than that: no-one who supports Krashen's views can demonstrate empirically why a significant percentage of successful learners have done formal grammar study, and huge numbers of immigrants never fully "acquire" the language correctly despite living decades in a native-speaking environment.
They just wave their hands and say "affective filter" and "speaking their native language at home".


Yes, this is so well worded. I'd just add that these people also use a very commonly spread straw man. When someone suggests explicit learning of the grammar, they pretend as if that meant memorising rules without their application. As if the grammarbooks for learners (which are usually very user friendly books with tons of practical examples these days) were the same as the grammarbooks for linguists at universities.

They use the bad name of grammar learning (which is often mixed with traumatising experiences from schools) to push their idea forward. They usually do not really prove anything (all of the studies I've seen had ridiculously small samples, bias in methodology, and not adressed issues with both the sample and the experiment), they just consider every learner without a hate for coursebooks to be just a dumb traditionalist sheep, bound to failure. I've even seen a few tell me that my success was not affected by grammar books, as if those had been just some sort of a placebo, which is complete nonsense.

All the successful learners I've ever met (online and offline) had used some combination of explicit learning and tons of input. There may be a few people, who can succeed with only one of the two components (I think we have a few examples in this community, I think Serpent does extremely well with "just" lots of input, if remember well). But the amount of badly speaking immigrants (those without the "grammarbook component") and the amount of "failed" classroom learners (usually those not bothering with tons of input, therefore without the second component, who are unable to use the knowledge in real life) shows that most people very probably need both.


Very well said, and agreed. It's like those who want to single out their method as the best thing since sliced bread, denigrate all course materials to dusty books full of boring classroom drills with no practical application in the real world where the language is used natively. While there is some truth to this, the answer is not to ditch course books altogether. In fact, many of the old course books as many of us have come to discover were in fact more thorough than many modern offerings. The pupils weren't taught to go beyond them. Conversely, the modern offerings often contain better audio, or present some aspects in a better (less dry) fashion, but fail on depth.

To add to this, a good portion of language learners that have trodden the path to an advanced level know that language courses have their place for many a learner, but the problem with language courses is this - completing one is not enough. Completing half a dozen is not enough. And as I learned, completing dozens is not enough. In other words, language courses are not the only ingredient required, but they are a good place to start for many and even continue to a lesser extent depending on your learning style. So, language courses, as iguanamon points out, have their place. They are not for everyone, but they indeed have their place to aid in acquisition of grammar, in understanding the framework or skeleton of a language on which the vocabulary clings to. Trying to get around France as a skeleton with no flesh, won't cut it. Trying to skip the bony structures of a language and getting straight onto the other parts won't be easy in completing the full body of work either. Understanding the structures is necessary. Using courses is perhaps the more common way to present this understanding to the learner, but the frame needs it's cladding, the skeleton it's flesh, the grammar it's vocabulary. Grammar or grammar books were not the problem, it's that the picture was incomplete, and so the work was unfinished and the courses have been (sometimes conveniently to make alternative sales) blamed. Mind you, there are some poor excuse for courses out there too.


Cainntear wrote:
Lisa wrote:
Cainntear wrote:Only production, and more specifically only speaking, makes every gap and mistake in your learning clear and obvious enough to motivate your brain to learn it right.


Hmmm, why only speaking?

Because when you're writing you have more time to think things through, and you can think about things in a different order, which can lead to failure to acquire correct word order.

If you're trying to write "I do it", you can think "je fais le" before you've finished writing "je", and then correct the order to "je le fais" without even noticing you've done it. What that means is that you have a successful strategy for getting the result you're looking for, and yet you are still training your brain to do the wrong thing. I've seen lots of people who can write the right thing, but still can't recall the language in the correct order to speak.
I find I can happily speak bad German by munging sounds (is it konnte or könnte? ein or eine? ), and I am understood (at least I think so!); but when I write I'm forced to commit to writing it a specific way, and then can see (or check) if it's right or wrong.

Well if you do it deliberately, you know you're doing it. The big danger lies in developing flawed strategies and being blind to the flaws.


Bolding and red colour added by me.

Speaking requires practise. Why is it that some skip output for so long? Are they skipping it to get the sense of faster progress only to have to return later and put in the work? Is it that they only want to learn how to read and are not wanting to speak? Are they afraid of messing up their pronunciation?

In my opinion, if you want to develop your speaking ability, you need to speak. For me, I didn't want to mess up my output, but instead of not doing any output and waiting for everything to be internalised correctly (i'm not a fan of this method), I would limit myself to grammatically correct utterances. How so? Speak only those words and sentences presented in the course materials I was using, since there's audio provided that can be imitated, pronunciation can be gradually perfected, it's grammatically sound and it progresses in difficulty at the pace of my learning.

After going through a number of courses, speaking every single sentence aloud, that is every single French word found within the course books, my ability for output grew slowly but surely. Surely in pronunciation, surely in grammar. Why waste good opportunities with course books and not imitate the words and speech within while progressing through them? I had no-one to speak to. I'm not one to hold imaginary conversations either. I'd sit down, do my study and work the pronunciation hard with every single word.

If you want to speak French well, you're going to need to put some work into your pronunciation. If you have to wait until much later when your listening and reading comprehension are way ahead of your speaking abilities are you going to tolerate going back to the very beginning of some materials to work out how to pronounce things better? Maybe you will, and that's okay, but it seems logical to me to work on this gradually, phoneme by phoneme from the beginning as you work on acquiring vocabulary and grammar as well. Going back to the beginning later to begin to pronounce things correctly, even if it's not going through the whole book again, but just the pronunciation segments, is potentially going to render you impatient to focus sufficiently. You might feel beyond the content and skip ahead, leaving you with rushed pronunciation that is attempting to catch up to your much better comprehension.

My advice if you want to start working on your output now (and pronunciation), is not to halt your progress with Assimil but to effectively start another 'wave' from the beginning in which you shadow/imitate the speech of the dialogues. If you don't want to work on output or pronunciation now, fair enough, but if you do, read on. This might not work for you, but it did for me.

Try to avoid perfecting all sounds at once as it may be overwhelming. Choose one phoneme at a time to work on and learn to see the patterns in other words that use the same phoneme represented by different spelling combinations. Once comfortable with that phoneme, pick another phoneme to work on but continue with the first by pronouncing it correctly and thereby not dropping your guard or becoming sloppy because you're focusing on a new sound now. Bit by bit you'll be able to read all phonemes with continued focus, hopefully. Slow down your own speech when beginning to imitate the new sounds correctly while attempting to get those muscles in your mouth, tongue, throat coordinating the new 'exercises' correctly. Eventually speed up your speech as you become more comfortable with pronouncing French words, ensuring as you speed up that you're not getting lazy or sloppy with your speech and that you're sure of your pronunciation. If native speakers can learn to speak their language, you can learn to speak it as they do through consistent application and not taking shortcuts.

Eventually you'll be able to work on sentence production. Speaking phonemes is one thing. Complete words is another ball game. Then sentences will leave you speaking already learned phonemes but never in the order you're coming across. This will take some practise too. Be patient with yourself and you'll get there.

I advise never uttering a word you don't know how to pronounce either. This is my personal approach and others might find that too much. However in doing so, I never blur over words in terms of their pronunciation hoping to go unnoticed. This will mean your pronunciation becomes less precise. Learn IPA (International Phonetic Association). It will help you know how to pronounce words even if you don't have access to the audio, but do have access with a dictionary that has IPA (lots of French dictionaries do, Spanish don't as much, but that's a different story and not necessary so much for Spanish).

Many people have an accent in their learned foreign languages because they apply their native tongue habits to the new language. They take short cuts with the learning process, or decide near enough is good enough. Wipe the slate clean. This is a new language, new rules, new mouth/tongue/throat/lips coordination to be learned. Don't be afraid to leave your native tongue behind. You are not going to lose anything important to your personality or your being by leaving your native tongue at the door while you enter the French 'classroom' and take on a French persona. Don't be afraid to sound and even be French as opposed to feeling you need to wear the 'foreigner learning French' cap and that you might be embarrassed to sound authentic. Get over that. You are French - (no disrespect meant here), perhaps you've had a accident and have forgotten your language and need to learn it again! You could role play and over-emphasize the role to bring out the real French accent hiding away in you.
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Re: Newbie Acquiring French [Will my method work?]

Postby Cainntear » Tue Apr 06, 2021 10:31 am

PeterMollenburg wrote:You are not going to lose anything important to your personality or your being by leaving your native tongue at the door while you enter the French 'classroom' and take on a French persona.

I have a slightly different take on this, but with the same end.

If you think your accent is part of your identity, is your identity "foreigner"? Probably not, because when you're at home, you presumably speak a lot like the people around you. Your accent doesn't project "foreigner" when you're at home, so should it project "foreigner" while you're away? A neutral, natural(ish) or even native-like accent stops the "foreigner" identity dominating how people around you see you, and lets you express better your own, personal, cross-language identity.
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Re: Newbie Acquiring French [Will my method work?]

Postby Le Baron » Tue Apr 06, 2021 2:03 pm

With regard to accent and 'sounding native', which is often a concern, I'd like to make a few remarks. English speakers (in particular, but not exclusively) are obsessed with 'sounding native'. It's partly the speakers, but also the rather tiresome insistence within some languages that a foreign speaker must sound near-native or be branded unintelligible.
Since English is so widely-spoken, English natives have encountered many, many foreign speakers of English with varying accents and ways of producing the language. With the result that many have become accepted, recognisable and imitable. And yet it's almost unquestioned that one must develop a French or Spanish or Italian accent or no-one will understand you and you'll also probably sound ridiculous. I reject this.

There's a difference between correct, well-observed and produced pronunciation and sounding native (whatever 'native' is because even regional accents are considered 'incomprehensible' for many prestige accent speakers). As an L2 speaker the vast majority will NEVER sound like a native. Not EVER, some even if they speak the language for 50 years. Living in a place with a lot of different immigrants I've heard dozens of different people speaking various (often multiple) languages and it is very rare indeed to find people who pass for a native of a language which isn't their mother tongue. Some need work and some are excellent, but in the final analysis I usually think 'who cares?' I certainly don't. When I meet friends in larger groups there tends to be a mix - some Spaniards, Dutch an Austrian, French sometimes..Arabs... - not always together, but there will be language switching between some members and you might hear French with a Spanish accent or people having a go at German and sounding distinctly Dutch or Spanish. It's completely normal.

The 'problem' is when you are in a majority monolingual environment - which happens just as much in Francophone or Spanish countries as among English. It's here you 'stand out' and yet still it's not because you are really incomprehensible, it's because in some languages there's a very narrow expectation of how things are supposed to sound. So the 'problem' will range from fairly inaccurate pronunciation which is understandably difficult to follow, to people remarking on trivialities or the trace of an accent. Usually people know exactly what you are saying, but enjoy pointing out that they've detected that you're not local. If you're around those people regularly it wears off.

I say all this because I think the search for the holy grail of '(near) native accent' is actually a poison chalice for learners and probably does more to hinder and retard progress in starting to speak than anything else. I say forget about it and only look at mastering major pronunciation obstacles. Stop trying to play a role to 'sound native' because there are other things which will always betray you and it just ends up looking worse. You can be an excellent L2 speaker and have an accent, it's okay. It's normal.
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Re: Newbie Acquiring French [Will my method work?]

Postby Cainntear » Tue Apr 06, 2021 5:53 pm

Le Baron wrote:With regard to accent and 'sounding native', which is often a concern,

Not exactly what I said:
Cainntear wrote:A neutral, natural(ish) or even native-like accent

Note the three grades of "good" accent -- I'm not saying you have to acquire a flawless accent, what I was meaning was that you're not exactly losing your identity when you make yourself easier to understand by learning more natural target language pronunciation.
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Re: Newbie Acquiring French [Will my method work?]

Postby lysi » Tue Apr 06, 2021 6:54 pm

PeterMollenburg wrote:I'm not one to hold imaginary conversations either. I'd sit down, do my study and work the pronunciation hard with every single word.


Absolutely disagree. French orthography is actually very consistent in knowing how to pronounce a word from how it's spelled, but not about how to spell a word from how it's pronounced, so as a learner you don't have need to know how to pronounce every single word. Sure, it's important to work on pronunciation but you don't need to work on every single word.
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Re: Newbie Acquiring French [Will my method work?]

Postby Le Baron » Tue Apr 06, 2021 7:05 pm

Cainntear wrote:
Le Baron wrote:With regard to accent and 'sounding native', which is often a concern,

Not exactly what I said:
Cainntear wrote:A neutral, natural(ish) or even native-like accent

Note the three grades of "good" accent -- I'm not saying you have to acquire a flawless accent, what I was meaning was that you're not exactly losing your identity when you make yourself easier to understand by learning more natural target language pronunciation.


I never accused you of saying as such! I was merely addressing an issue as I see it. There's no denying that a good deal of learners are very cognisant of not 'sounding right'. And I pointed to the problem of pandering to unrealistic expectations. It's not always in larger languages, but it is in smaller languages like Dutch where the locals don't have huge numbers of examples of foreign Dutch speakers and expect you to either sound like Donald Jones (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECwFVMMOPiE) or sound 'Dutch'.

Since this is about French, the French can also be like this and unrealistically so. I just wanted to say that beavering away to get a 'near native accent' is very often a pipe dream and one that menaces your actual progress.
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