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Great trick for learning French — Fast! (#50)

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So many Canadian adults want very much to learn or improve their French (or English), but feel the task is too momentous, especially if they do not live in an environment where they can use it on a regular basis.  For most adults, the challenges in learning a new language are:

  1. Finding the time,
  2. Finding material that’s not boring,
  3. In the case of Romance Languages (Portuguese, French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, etc.), the tediousness of learning conjugations.
  4. Memorizing and retaining vocabulary.

I speak three languages fluently (English, French, and Mandarin Chinese — of which all three I work in everyday), and I have studied and regularly read 2 other ones (Portuguese and Spanish).  I also studied Arabic for a year when I lived in Lebanon for a couple of years.  Although I’m not a teacher and have never taught, I do fortunately have a bit of language-learning experience behind me.  Also to my advantage, I’ve been lucky enough to have had careers which allowed me to live and work in a few different countries — this definitely helps when learning new languages.  So I don’t mind offering language-learning advice to others (keep in mind that everyone learns differently).

Over the years, one tool I found that helps immensely to rapidly learn a new language as an adult, especially for learning new romance languages, is “side-by-side comparison” learning.   This means,

  • (a) chosing an online news article which you have an interest in (the key is chosing material you are interested in),
  • (b) copying it from your online web browser,
  • (c) pasting it into google translate: https://translate.google.com/ 
  • (d) reading it in the language you are studying, and using the translation on the right side of the page as a reference when you run into a word or conjugation you don’t understand.

Google translate

This method has the following advantages…

  1. You always are reading information that is of interest to YOU (not of interest to your teacher) which helps to hold your interest.
  2. When you run into a word you don’t know, you always have its reference to on the right side of the screen… so no more having to run to the dictionary every few words… allowing you to rapidly keep moving.
  3. The more rapid you move along (point 2), the more rapidly you’ll run across the same word again.  This has the advantage of helping you retain new vocabulary faster (chances are if you run across a new word 3 times in five minutes, you’ll remember it from that point on).
  4. You can read the material at your convenience, and come back to it whenever you want (it’s great if you work on a computer… you can read new articles during your coffee breaks, lunch, etc).
  5. Picking up new written vocabulary will help you discern words when listening to spoken French.
  6. Google translate works well on an iPad also (you have to reset it to “classic mode” from “mobile” mode — the toggle is at the bottom of the Google Translate screen).   This allows you to study and review on-the-go, when lying in bed, or whenever, wherever.  (hint: to prevent your iPad screen from refreshing and collapsing when you’re outside of a Wi-Fi zone, make sure to turn off the Wi-Fi mode before you leave the house… that way your translation won’t disappear when you leave your home’s Wi-Fi).

Don’t get discouraged in your learning… it’s a process, one step at a time.  Of course your reading will be slow and staggered at first.  But if you keep at it, and read an article every couple of days, you’ll find yourself making huge progress after just one month.  Your reading pace will increase, and you’ll find yourself reading more and more.  Give it a shot, and keep up the great work!


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