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Learning French

(On my "Belgium" webpage I have information about learning French in Brussels.)

I'll limit myself to noting tips that I haven't found in books, or parts of the language that many books get wrong.

"Vous" can be impolite

One thing I've discovered that is not in any of the books is that sometimes it's rude to use the polite forms in French. For one example, there are two words for "you" in French. The polite form: "vous" and the informal form: "tu". The books all recommend that you use the polite form while you're learning because "that way, you can't go wrong", but you can. If someone is friendly to you, and you continue to use the polite form, then you are distancing yourself from them, which is rude.

Why French?

The French government and many French language enthousiasts are afraid that their language will one day be replaced by English, so they make an effort to facilitate others learning it. This is also why the French government subsidises the dubbing industry.

My tips

I haven't gotten around to really writing this page, but I sent someone a detailed email on this topic recently, so I'll reproduce it here:

> Aside from that, are there any online French resources you swear by?

None :-/  I might have given up too easily when looking for good sites.  I
try to get away from the computer when possible.

You might find something here:
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Français_langue_étrangère#Sites_gratuits_pour_apprendre_le_FLE

The best I found was the news in simplified French:
http://www.rfi.fr/lffr/statiques/accueil_apprendre.asp
twice daily, with a transcript of the morning news (unless things have
changed since).

However I never actually listened to it - but that might be because my only
net access is in the office.  A good exercise we've done in all the schools
I've studied at is to listen to a recording of the news 3 or 4 times with a
break in between, and try to note down as much detail as possible about what
you heard.  For the news broadcast with the transcript, this might be an
exercise you could do alone - the transcript would enable you to check/correct
your work.

So as not to be thrown by the context, it's best to do this with some world
news (i.e. not Belgian where they talk non-stop about BHV, CDV, Bart de
Wever, Bart Somers, and other things that'd make no sense).  The rfi.fr news
is probably world news.  If not, tv5monde.fr also has audio news.

> Anything you read regularly, or any podcasts or online radio
> station(s) you listen to?

There's a good japanese podcast and I've seen a French version listed on
their site.  Might be useless, but here it is:
http://www.frenchpod101.com/

You could sign up for the free trial account, log in, tell wget where your
firefox cookies file is located, and then do a recursive wget (you'll have to
tune it with the include, exclude, host-crossing etc. criteria to prevent it
from wasting time with crap).

Contributing to Wikipedia is good - it
reminds you how crap your French is.  But still, writing a sentence or two is
great exercise, even if it takes an hour.  The Talk: page and your user page
can be an easy place to start.

In the dead tree sector, I find the Oxford French Verbpack useful - I did 3
years ago, and I still do.  About €7 here.

And classes are a big help.  My French really started to take off from the
beginning of 2007 when I started taking classes.

It depends on your constraints and what's available there, but one very
efficient thing to do would be to find a French speaker who can teach you
for an hour per week and each week write a few pages about a few topics and
then spend the hour reviewing that with the teacher.  Writing is a great way
to learn, but you need some kind of review.  If doing this, it's best to aim
for volume rather than quality.  Correcting things slows you down and can be
done more efficiently with the teacher.  That's the most
independent-but-realistic way I can think of learning French.

I think there are also paysites online where you can submit French writings
for correction and comment.  Not sure if that'd be as good, but it'd be
another option.

(Go: homepage of Ciarán O'Riordan)

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