Brushing up on my French

by on April 13th, 2018

I sing in a local choir which is doing several French pieces for our next concert and it made me realize I’ve lost much of the French I learned in high school and college. I love the French language and while I could pick out the general sense of the songs we’re working on in choir, I came across many words I was unfamiliar with and I had to do some look ups to see what they meant.

For this I used Google Translate which is great for translating words between languages. It has its own site but you can use the same tool from a Google search if you pair it with the word ‘translate’. One of the songs we’re singing is called “Valse avec choeur” by George Bizet and while I knew the second part of the title was ‘with choir’ I didn’t recognize the first word. I used ‘translate valse’ and in recognizing it as French it translated as ‘waltz’. “Waltz with choir” definitely fits the style of the piece.

After I had finished looking up words I didn’t know from our songs, I started thinking about other ways that I could refresh my French. Since I haven’t heard it spoken in awhile I started looking up movies in French so that I could start listening to how words were pronounced. I found that my memory has Americanized the French I still remembered so that was helpful in getting French sounds back in my brain. Since French dialog in movies is still pretty fast for my level of understanding (and I had to use the English subtitles to understand what was going on), I wanted to get something that was more my speed.

So I signed up for Mango Languages and Transparent Languages which are both language learning tools the library offers. Both have lessons based around specific categories like shopping or eating out. This makes it easier to learn new vocabulary since word clustering is helpful in memorizing foreign languages. Past this basic similarity, their methods are a fairly different. While initially I was going to try them out and choose my favorite to stick with, I ended up liking them both, but for different reasons.

Transparent Languages focuses on vocabulary by always showing a count of the words you’ve learned and even though I’ve known many of the basic French words I was reviewing since high school, it’s still exciting to see it go up. In addition, it has a built in system for reviewing words that you haven’t revisited in the past few days. Since reviewing words overtime is super important in remembering vocab, this is a very helpful feature. When first introducing new vocab, each word has an image with it so you can picture it as more than just the written word. Sometimes there are even notes giving context for the word, like for ‘Bonjour’ which it’s noted that it can be used for saying ‘Good day’ and ‘Good afternoon’.

I also like that each of the vocab lessons has multiple ways of testing if you remember the vocab because you’re likely to come across it in various ways, and while  testing right away helps point out which words you need to spend more time memorizing, it’s good practice as well. Then, if you find you have a preferred way to review (or a way you want to work on reviewing) vocab between listening, reading, speaking, or writing, you can choose that method in the future for reviewing words.

Mango Languages is like a teaching set of flash cards. You learn a vocab word and then it immediately asks you to remember it and after a few times of remembering it between learning other words, it asks you to think about it in a different context. Like learning the words for good morning (Bonjour) and how are you (Ça va?) separately but then putting them together in a sentence like Bonjour, ça va?. While a simple compound, this changes it from just a word to a word with context.

Another great part about Mango is it gives cultural notes on words as you go along. For example, ça va literally translates as ‘it is going’ so you’re really asking ‘It’s going?’ when you ask someone how they are in French. In addition it does color coding for words so you can always see what English words match up to the French ones. So you’re learning words and phrases at the same time.

Since starting to review my French it’s becoming easier to translate again and occasionally I’ll have French words pop into my head for things I’m doing or saying. I’m already thinking about starting another language but there’s so many to choose from it might take me a little while to decide. Though, my choir sings a lot of German, so that might be next on my list.

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