Here are the first posts in my old HTLAL log, starting from February 19 2012:
For two years, I studied French using Assimil New French with Ease, native books, newspapers, podcasts, and a Mnemosyne deck with about 1000 words. I started with a 30-day trial, and never skipped a day. At the end of 2 years, I could carry on a conversation and read some books, but I didn't have much luck with movies or news podcasts.
Unfortunately, the next two years were busy, and I had to put French on hold. I read a few paragraphs from Le Monde every day, and listened to my wife speak French with the kids, but that was about it. My French improved slightly.
Here are my goals for the first half of 2012:
1. I want to pass a DELF B1 exam in June, preferably with room to spare.
2. I want to understand full-speed news radio.
3. I want to read more books in French.
4. I want to speak full-time French with my wife much more often.
It's time to get off this plateau and take my French to the next level. Wish me luck!
My listening skills have really been improving rapidly this week. This morning, I was
surprised to understand 80+% of RFI Français Facile, which is a major breakthrough for
me. After listening to the regular RFI news podcasts, Français Facile sounds
I've also started reading Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours using the
Android Kindle app. The Kindle app has a nice built-in dictionary, which makes it easy
to look up some of the old-fashioned vocabulary. The older French verb tenses are a bit
challenging, and I'm looking up a couple of words per paragraph, but the story has a
wonderfully retro science fiction feel, and I can't wait to find out what happens.
After this, I've got a great kids' book to read.
I'm also using the Android Anki app to learn 5 cards per day from Anki's Intermediate
French deck. This is mostly idioms and specialized vocabulary, and I'm not being nearly
so religious about it as about my earlier Mnemosyne deck. Anki has a great "drop
leeches" feature, so I don't keep recycling the same 50 evil cards all the time. I do
use my old and new SRS vocabularly on a regular basis, but man, SRS will eat my life
given half a chance, and it's less fun than reading.
Speaking French with my wife is doable when we're both rested and alert. I find that I
need to push fairly hard to use French all the time, and not just for the easiest 80%
of phrases that I already know. Even though we've done several 95%+ French days in the
last week, we need to keep working on this.
Also, my subjunctive is a mess. So I spent some time reading up on the French
subjunctive on About.com, and I'm starting to recognize it in books and use it in
conversation. My French grammar has pretty much always been intuitive, thanks to
Assimil, and I still have big gaps.
I also flipped through a sample DELF B1 exam. I could probably pass this today if they
let me listen to the audio clips a few extra times and didn't enforce the time limit
too strictly. So if I study hard, I should do fine at the June test date.
It's really beginning to sink in just how much work lies between B1 and C1. Yikes.
My wife is awesome; she speaks French with me. It's relatively easy for us to speak
about day-to-day life, because I've spent so much time listening to her speak with the
kids. It's more challenging if we want discuss a play, or an abstract idea, and she
often has to supply me with vocabulary.
RFI Français Facile was more challenging today, and I didn't understand as much the
first time through. But after the 3rd listen, I got a lot of it. There was a
ridiculously fast report on the soccer championship between Montpelier and
Saint-Germain. The demonstrations in Spain are growing, the demonstrations in Athens
are shrinking, and Germany has a new president, a pastor and human rights advocate from
East Germany. Oh, and Iran has decided to stop selling oil to the UK and France, but
neither country cares, because they don't buy that much Iranian oil, and because the
cold wave has receded. Greece, however, gets 30% of their oil from Iran. In a few
sections of the news report, I could understand plenty of half-sentence fragments but
couldn't tie them together. (It's amazing how some days are so much easier than
There was also a long discussion of "la damme de fer" and other uses of "de fer", such
as "santé de fer" ("iron constitution"). This would have been more interesting if the
idioms didn't have near-identical counterparts in English.
Tonight, I plan to curl up with Le Tour du Monde again. I'm at the 12% mark
after several days of casual reading. Gotta love that Kindle dictionary.
Oh, and I ordered 3 DELF B1 prep books last night. They should arrive in a week or two,
and I'll try to post some reviews at some point.
[Written yesterday on the 21st.]
I alternate between euphoria and frustration.
First, the euphoria: French is remarkably, surprisingly fun. I've now read
28% of Le Tour du Monde on the Kindle, and I'm enjoying every moment. I
also peeked at the first page of Voltaire's Candide, and thought, "This
is going to be a great book." Suddenly there's a whole new world of awesome
classic books that I need to read. (Sadly, it's hard to get modern French
novels on an American Kindle. But the classics are free, and I have a
secret fondness for the prose of late 19th century.)
I listened to RFI Français Facile again, getting most of the easy parts on
the first pass, and several of the harder correspondents on the second
pass. I spent another 10 minutes listening to other native French
podcasts, including an amusing annecdote about Sarkozy's «france forte»
website on RFI Nouvelles Technologies (he has a nice photo of the Greek
ocean) and water-heater problems on "One thing in a French day." About
half the native podcasts made sense tonight.
My wife and I spoke extensively in French this evening, which was a blast.
The words came easily and smoothly, and when I accidentally spoke to the
kids in French, it took me several moments to translate back into English.
As I said to my wife, "You've created a monster. Now I speak endlessly in
two languages, and you can't shut me up in either." The biggest
challenge, as always, was trying to express precise ideas about a play, or
an abstract topic.
Which brings me to the frustration. There's still just so much that I
don't know. So many conversations where I look like a total idiot. So
many podcasts where I understand lots of little pieces, but can't fit them
together into sentences. So many clever turns of phrase that baffle me
upon close inspection.
Assimil's «Où est le Metro? Le metro est là-bas.» was so long ago. I've
come so far, and I see my path behind me, winding through the valley
below. But C1 still lies far ahead, and it looks like the Matterhorn.
Shortly after making these posts, I began working 3 times a week with an excellent DELF tutor over Skype. About three months later, I passed the DELF B2 exam with 78/100 points, which is supposedly a solid score.
After the DELF: Super Challenge, lots of TV, and current progress
I went on to do the original Super Challenge, reading over 10,000 pages of French in 20 months, and watching hundreds of hours of television, including box sets of Buffy contre les vampires, Ulysse 31 and L'Avatar, le dernier maître de l'air. After the Super Challenge, I could comfortably read almost anything in French. In my favorite genres, I run into an "opaque" word (one which is sufficiently unknown that I notice it) every two or three pages. Apparently massive input helps a lot!
Along the way, I've spent years speaking French at home, and I've had actual professional conversations in French. My speaking ability is somewhat uneven—my "household" French is almost fully automatic, but more intellectual discussions require sleep, warm up and a bit of luck!
Want lots of cool links and media in French?
My French resources post
My "Immersion française" Twitter list, with lots of addictive stuff
Media I like on SensCritique
Favorite song playlist on YouTube (notes)