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Re: James29's Spanish and French Log

Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2015 2:33 am
by James29
That's cool stuff. Thanks. So, it sounds like the subjunctive in French is easier than in Spanish. Actually, I must say that French after Spanish is SO much easier than Spanish after English. I hope this stuff continues to fall into place. It seems like it will. I'm starting to get a bit overwhelmed by keeping all the verb tenses straight. I am glad I am not trying to produce French now. I'm really only focusing on reading so the conjugations seem fairly easy to understand when I see them. I don't think I could do anything actively now, but picking up French reading after Spanish seems to be pretty easy.

Re: James29's Spanish and French Log

Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2015 6:27 pm
by emk
James29 wrote:Actually, I must say that French after Spanish is SO much easier than Spanish after English.

I think that some of this is the Romance discount, and some of this just having learned another language already. I would say that I found beginner-level Middle Egyptian to be relatively straightforward: Certainly not much harder than beginner French was the first time around, despite having totally unfamiliar vocabulary, a new writing system, and very non-Indo-European grammar. I had better tools and better strategies. You can see this same pattern with a lot of people who learned multiple languages—there's definitely a speedup independent of related language discounts.

James29 wrote:I'm starting to get a bit overwhelmed by keeping all the verb tenses straight.

Here are French verb tenses, in a nutshell. There's probably a mistake in here somewhere, because I wrote it fast, but here you go. :-)

Tenses you need to communicate in limited French

  • Présent. Simpler than it looks, because 2/3rds of the endings are silent. Je parle.
  • Passé composé. Your basic past tense, formed with avoir or être plus a participle: J'ai parlé.
  • Futur proche. An easy compound future tense, analogous to "I'm going to…" or voy a, heavily used in speech, formed with aller plus an infinitive: Je vais parler.
The latter two are easy because you just need to know how to conjugate the auxiliary in the present tense, and your basic participles.

Tenses which are not as bad as they appear

These have a few irregularities, but only for really common verbs. Other than that, they're a lot simpler than they look.

  • Imparfait. Roughly analogous to "I was…" in English, though the rules for when to use the passé composé and when to use the imparfait are slightly fiddly. The stem is usually the second person present stem (nous), plus endings that never change. Je parlais.
  • Futur simple. Like "I will speak" in English. The stem is virtually always the infinitive minus any trailing -e, and the endings are the present tense of avoir minus any av-. Je parlerai.
  • Conditionnel. Like "I would speak" in English. This uses the stem of the futur simple plus endings of the imparfait, so it's a freebie. Je parlerais.
  • Compound tenses with avoir or être. Have fun; these basically all work like an English speaker would expect, except that in French, you will need to use the futur antérieur ("I will have spoken") in a lot more places. Nobody will care much before B2.
  • Subjonctif. Don't be scared; as mentioned previously, it's pretty mechanical in French. It normally uses the third person plural present stem plus entirely predictable endings. (You will very occasionally see passé du subjonctif, which is just the obvious compound past with avoir or être.) Je parle.
When you actually look through in details, the conjugations are easier than you'd expect, and most of them (except the subjonctif) have straightforward English analogs.

Tenses which only appear in narration

It is extraordinarily rare for any of these to appear in native speech, except in a few rare, fixed expressions.

  • Passé simple. The standard past tense used in virtually all narration, including both children's fairy tales and translations of Tom Clancy thrillers. Easy to learn—it will take you about an hour when you start reading fiction. You will not be expected to produce it unless you write fiction in the past tense. Normally appears in the third person. Il parla.
  • Imparfait du subjonctif. Occasionally appears in narration as the subjunctive counterpart to the passé simple, but it sounds pretty heavy if it's common. Normally appears in the third person. Il parlât.
  • Passé antérieur and plus-que-parfait du subjonctif. Compound tenses with avoir or être. Best consumed in very small quantities.
These are easy because you will only need to recognize them in print, almost always when reading fiction, and you will not be required to produce them.

Oh, and just for fun, the most complicated regular verb in French is boire "to drink", which shows off every distinct stem that a French verb can have. The weirdest irregular verb is aller.

Re: James29's Spanish and French Log

Posted: Fri Dec 18, 2015 1:26 am
by arthaey
emk wrote:Here are French verb tenses, in a nutshell.

@emk: This is an amazingly useful summary! Thank you!

I see that studying être, avoir, and aller + a the present tense conjugation patterns are in my immediate future. ;)

Re: James29's Spanish and French Log

Posted: Fri Dec 18, 2015 4:36 am
by Arnaud

Re: James29's Spanish and French Log

Posted: Fri Dec 18, 2015 12:48 pm
by emk
OK, one more post on French verbs before I end this digression in James29's log. :-)

Arnaud wrote:As emk explained, you usually take the infinitive (or root+r) and add an ending of the verb "avoir".
Ex: Savoir au futur-> je saurai (sau+r+ai->root+r+ending), manger au futur->je mangerai (manger+ai->infinitive+ending)

Savoir is one of the truly irregular verbs, and it does pretty much whatever it pleases. Here's a list of the truly irregular French verbs:

  • These are all incredibly common: être, avoir, aller, faire, pouvoir, vouloir, savoir, devoir, falloir, valoir. You'll see these everywhere, and you'll want to know all their common uses.
  • These are all also irregular or weird, but you don't need to care until you reach a fairly high level: pleuvoir, parfaire. -raire, adirer, douer. There are a few that even rarer than this, but you really don't care about those.
All those nice hints I gave above? They don't necessarily apply to these verbs. You'll probably have to treat these as special cases.

If you exclude the verbs mentioned above, the remaining French verbs have 7 principle parts: the infinitive, the singular stem, the unstressed (or "atonic") stem, the stressed (or "tonic") stem, the past participle, the future stem, and the simple past stem. You don't care about the simple past stem except when reading fiction, and even then, you mostly need a vague ability to recognize a handful of common verbs.

If we ignore the irregular verbs list above, and if we leave out the infinitive and the simple past stem, here's how French verbs actually work. (This is taken from an ongoing project of mine, which tries to explain this in more detail.)
emk-generic-french-conjugation.png (45.59 KiB) Viewed 480 times

(1) Ending varies for certain groups and verbs. The -er verbs, in particular, have their own set of endings here. (2) The -t is omitted after d, t and hard c. (3) The future tense endings are same as the present tense endings of avoir minus any leading av-. (4) The conditional endings are identical to the imperfect endings, but they use another stem.

In addition to the above, there's one purely spelling-related fix you need to know. From my notes:

emk wrote:Many -er verbs contain a soft c or g sound. When we add endings to the verb, we need to make sure we preserve this sound. If the ending begins with e or i, we're all set. If not, we need to tweak the stem:

manger: mang + ons = mangeons
commencer: commenc + ons = commençons

This overall logic is fairly trustworthy: I've tested it against French verb databases using actual code, and it will generate correct conjugations for virtually everything you'll ever encounter, even at the C1 level and up. I'll leave you with a code snippet that picks out one supposedly regular -er verb that has a second, irregular past participle when used as a euphemism:

Code: Select all

class FicherConjugator(ErConjugator):
    REMOVE = 'er'
    PAST_PARTICIPLE = u'é|u' # By analogy to foutu.

Someday I want to turn this into a French verb conjugation website. But that will need to wait until I finish some other projects.

Re: James29's Spanish and French Log

Posted: Fri Dec 18, 2015 12:54 pm
by James29
Interesting stuff. I'm finding that I think about French as a modified form of Spanish. The similarities are so obvious. The verbs and forms that are similar to Spanish are simple... for example the verbs that correspond to haber and ir are just simple concepts in French because, so far, it seems to work just like Spanish. I'm noticing that my focus only on reading/understanding (and ignoring completely the production aspect of French for now) is allowing me to understand much of what I read without really being conscious or even thinking about the verb form. It is pretty easy to see a verb in context and just know intuitively (without knowing the conjugations) if it is in the past, present, subjunctive, etc.

It also seems to me that French uses the pronouns much more with the verbs so you really don't need to know the conjugations because if you know the pronoun that goes with the verb it must match. This makes French much easier to read because if I see je + verb stem or nous + verb stem that is really all I need to know in order to understand.

Re: James29's Spanish and French Log

Posted: Sun Dec 20, 2015 4:12 pm
by James29
I am just chugging along with French and a bit of Spanish too. I have been overwhelmed at work but maintain my morning language study every day. I'd say it was a pretty good week.


I'm basically just working my way through Sandberg's French for Reading. I continue to be very impressed. I finished chapter 13 this morning. I have now done chapters 1-9 twice and 10-13 one time. Tomorrow I will go back to chapter 10 and re-do chapters 10-13 over the upcoming week. The approach is wonderful and it really works. However, it is really getting tough. He introduces a ton of new material each chapter and you get completely lost if you don't retain most of it. I was pretty lost in some of the exercises in chapter 13. I think this way of learning would be tough for someone brand new to learning languages. So many of the concepts are easy for me to get my brain around and so many of the words have a root similar to the Spanish word.

If I had more time I would do an Assimil lesson each day in addition to working on French for Reading. I think combining these two courses would be an amazing way to begin learning French.

I can read some basic things pretty well now. When I read the French logs on this site I often can understand most of the writing. I've been on Amazon looking for A1 level books and try to read them in the preview. I think I could struggle through a very basic book now if it was on my Kindle with a pop up reader. The problem is really "how" many of the words work. For example, today's lesson had a section on how "y" and "en" work. They seem important and I kind of understand it. I just think I need more exposure to sentences and uses of these types of words. The same thing is true with the negations. When there is a sentence with "ne...... que" or "ne.... plus" I kind of understand it. I can spot the issue but often just cannot quite pull off the true underlying meaning. Another example is how the imperatives work. I can tell the verb is an imperative but when the pronoun does not appear I'm a bit confused as the the actual meaning (who is being ordered, etc). I know this is all very basic stuff that will just come with time. The "problem" is that each successive chapter of the book assumes you master all of these little things it has already taught you. So, it builds in all of the things from before. If you are kind of shaky on one thing that is fine, but I am getting shaky on several things so I am just crashing on the latter chapters. Anyway, I'll keep on moving with this book.

I do like the decision to really just focus on one aspect of learning... reading. I think I would be overwhelmed at this point if I was trying to produce, pronounce and understand the spoken language too. That will come with time and I think things will be much easier once I get a good solid foundation in the language.


I'm really not spending too much time with Spanish anymore. I simply don't have the time. I listen to the news every morning on the drive to work. I have also read a few more chapters of my Agatha Christie book. I'm not too excited about this book so it feels more like a chore. While on Amazon I made a list of books I really want to read in Spanish. I miss spending time with Spanish in the morning (when I ma doing French now). I'm going to keep going with French for now, but really feel like I would rather be further improving my Spanish.

I went to a meetup. Nothing new there. I think I'm probably going to be spending less time going to meetups.

I also had a decent conversation or two on skype. I'm quite good with one on one conversations... especially about regular every day things.

I watched a couple episodes of Los Miserables this week too. When I was watching yesterday I realized that it is really very enjoyable to just watch a TV show in Spanish. It is so much easier for me to watch TV than read a book. It is just relaxing. Maybe I will start trying to watch an episode every night. Los Miserables is still quite entertaining. It is going on for so long that the plot has twisted so many times I'm getting a little bit annoyed at how some things are just a bit unrealistic. I suppose there is only so much they can do and they have to end up with 120 episodes. I like the show but I am surprised I have not gotten attached whatsoever to any of the characters. It would be much more enjoyable if I felt some sort of bond with one of the characters.

Re: James29's Spanish and French Log

Posted: Sun Dec 27, 2015 2:39 pm
by James29
Well, I would have to say that this week (the weekdays) was the lightest week of language learning I've had in the last six years. I've just been extraordinarily busy at work. Not only am I overloaded with business, but I have to do all sorts of year end things and I have one last major problem the previous business owner left me that I am still in the process of fixing.


As a result of being overwhelmed, during the week all I really did this week was listen to the news in Spanish on the way into the office. I did read a short chapter or two of Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Then, over the long holiday weekend I actually had a decent amount of free time as I refused to go to work on the 25th or 26th (even though I really should). I finished the Agatha Christie book. I must say that I only halfheartedly read this book. I pretty much gave up on following all the clues and the twists and turns. It is not hard book to read and would be a pretty good book for intermediate Spanish learners who are not quite ready for the jump to regular adult books. It was short enough that I just trudged through it and finished it. In a way it was uninteresting because I knew the entire time who committed the murder. I'm not really sure how, but it just seemed obvious to me who the culprit was.

Yesterday I started the second Harry Bosch book by Michael Connelly, The Black Ice. I've already read the first five chapters and I really like it. It is amazing to me how much of a difference "liking" the book makes. There is something about these types of books that just seem to easy and relaxing for me to read. I would say that my understanding is pretty close to 100%. There are certainly words here and there that I have to look up with the popup translator, but they are few and far between. I also, of course, see many words I've never seen but can easily guess from context (like whatever word they use for a "shot" of tequila). Unfortunately, I am a very slow reader even in English so it takes me a long time to get through a book like this. I am glad it is an enjoyable process. Reading on a Kindle is great.

It really felt good to spend a couple hours reading the Connelly book. It is just so much more enjoyable to do something like this as compared to "studying" French. In many ways I have missed Spanish over the past few weeks.

I've been thinking about my Spanish goals for 2016 quite a bit. I feel like I am so close to making a major breakthrough that I am reluctant to back off. I think reading and watching telenovelas is really helpful (and enjoyable too).


I did nothing in French at all since last week's update. I really do want to know French, but it just seems as though I'm not capable of dedicating enough time to it right now. This past week I did not even really have time to do ANYTHING in language learning so I don't know how I can justify the "luxury" of learning French when I have so little time for things in my life that are so much more important.

My problem with French has always been that I simply cannot justify putting in the time. There just does not seem like a big payoff. I am probably fooling myself with my Spanish, but at least with Spanish I feel like it will eventually be very helpful for my business. With French I only have random non-productive goals like visiting Montreal and the French Caribbean and speaking with some French speaking relatives in their second native language.

When I think about it objectively it just seems so much more appropriate for me to be putting my valuable free time into Spanish. In fact, I really should be putting that extra 30-60 minutes a day into my business, but my Spanish studies do help keep me in a good frame of mind.

Anyway, French is off the table for now. I have not officially quit, but I am just putting it on the back burner until things normalize a bit.

General Thoughts:

2015 has been a very good year for me all things considered. I had a great year with the business and the future looks great. I had a great year with Spanish and feel like I had some major breakthroughs. Reading as much as I did made a gigantic difference.

I had a major personal project/goal I was working on in 2015 and I did not accomplish what I set out to do. It was much more challenging than I thought it would be. I have not totally given up, but, for now, I have put that project on hold too.

In terms of goals for 2016 I think I will just focus entirely on Spanish. If I dabble in French too that will be fine. I'll formulate my "official" goals by next week, but for now I am thinking of doing mostly the same things I did in 2015 with a focus on reading and watching telenovelas.

I pretty easily accomplished the 1,000,000 words of reading in 2015 and think I could very easily do 2,000,000 if I wanted to this year as I can read faster now. I'd really like to watch the Telenovela "Celia" when I finish "Los Miserables" because I really want/need to work with more Caribbean Spanish resources and Celia looks like it would be something very enjoyable. I must say, however, I want to be careful "forcing" myself to watch Telenovelas because sometimes I just really do not like sitting down in front of a computer in my free time.

I've gone back and forth about doing the C level Gramatica de Uso del Espanol. The B level book was so incredibly useful that I will definitely do the C level book at some point. I just might wait for a bit. It is a major undertaking. I am definitely ready for it, but also feel like I would benefit from doing a full year of just reading, listening/reading and watching telenovelas.

Well, that's it for now.

Re: James29's Spanish and French Log

Posted: Sun Dec 27, 2015 4:00 pm
by Stelle
James29 wrote:Well, I would have to say that this week (the weekdays) was the lightest week of language learning I've had in the last six years.

Think about that, still read and you still listened. And it was the lightest in six years. I personally think that's pretty amazing, and something to be proud of!

Re: James29's Spanish and French Log

Posted: Sun Jan 03, 2016 3:04 pm
by James29
Very true. Thanks.


This week was a pretty straightforward week. I'm just chugging through "The Black Ice" by Michael Connelly in Spanish. This is the second Harry Bosch book and I am really liking it. I am just over half-way through now and he is headed for Mexico to solve the mystery. It is pretty easy for me to read. Each chapter takes me about 30 minutes and I am reading either one or two each day. The audio book is about 12 hours and at the pace I am reading I'll finish the book in about 17 hours of reading. I think that is a pretty good pace. I'm not trying to read fast. I'm trying to make sure I understand everything so every other chapter I have to go back and re-read a paragraph or something. I also look up words occasionally.

I still listen to the news on the way to work. I also went to a meetup. That's about it for Spanish this week.


I'm feeling bad for setting French aside. It was calling me this week. I did not do anything in French, but I'm starting to think about getting back into it. There must be an easy way to get to a decent conversational/reading level in French.


I've thought very much about my goals for 2016 but have not decided anything. Maybe I'll just do whatever I feel like. I am not at risk of quitting. My annual goals were mostly to give me something to note my productivity. Now, I'm just enjoying using Spanish.