Interview: Laura K. Lawless – 2
What first attracted you to learning French (and then Spanish)? And how did you start learning French?
We had to take a language in high school, and since my older brother was taking French I did too. Unlike him, I was immediately drawn to French, and language in general, so after a couple of years I started studying Spanish.
How did you become a French expert (including your studies and experience working for About.com)?
I studied for four years in high school and four years in college, then spent six weeks in Rouen, Normandy before starting my Master’s program in translation and interpretation at Monterey Institute of International Studies (California). When that degree didn’t pan out (in order to finish it, I needed to spend a year in France, which I was unable to do), I kind of got lost for a couple of years before I started teaching French at an adult education center. Around this time, I decided I really wanted to work freelance and taught myself HTML from a book. Once I felt comfortable with that, I started looking for work and was lucky enough to discover About.com (then called the Mining Company) which was looking for a French language Guide. I applied, and my site went live four months later, in June 1999.
What do you do as a guide at French.about.com?
It’s funny that you should ask, because most people who write to me refer to the site as the French Guide, when that is really my title. In addition, they often assume that there’s a team of people working on the site, but in fact I do all the writing: original lessons, quizzes, and articles related to French language and culture. I also maintain five forums; send a twice-weekly newsletter and several e-courses; review books and other French materials; maintain lists of useful links; and answer hundreds of emails a week. I do have a few forum hosts and the long sound files are done by native speakers, but otherwise, everything you see on my site is created and maintained by me.
Menton – La vieille ville
For French language learners
What advice would you give to french language students who have seemingly completed their advanced grammar studies, but are still having difficulty wrestling with the language?
There is a series of plateaus in language learning, and the I-feel-like-I’ve-learned-everything-now-what? is the worst – or the best, really, because what that means is it’s time (probably past time) for you to immerse yourself in French, and by that of course I mean go to France or Québec or some other French-speaking place to stay for an extended period of time. Dive in, don’t be afraid to talk, and your French will just get better and better.
What’s the best way for them to revise?
I don’t really think there is one; you just have to get out there and use the language. You’ll soon discover your weak points and I guarantee you’ll be inspired to figure out how to eliminate them.
Then what’s the best way to improve your comprehension?
It’s all about practice: watching TV and movies, listen to the radio, eavesdrop in restaurants, make crank phone calls – whatever, wherever, however you can listen to more French.
And finally what about methods for improving your accent?
I highly recommend getting a private tutor, or check out the Alliance française – the one in Paris offers accent reduction classes tailored to the specific difficulties of your native language.
Now onto a list of your favourites…
What is your favourite French idiomatic expression?
I love the expression quand même, which I finally feel like I’ve mastered. It has a range of meanings and you hear it constantly, but it can be a little tricky to get used to: http://french.about.com/od/vocabulary/a/quandmeme.htm
What is your favourite irregular french verb? (if it’s possible to have such a thing)
Faillir, not so much because of its conjugations but rather its meaning: to almost do something, as in J’ai failli tomber = I almost fell.
What is your favourite french tense?
I’m intrigued by the passé simple, which is reserved for written French. It has a different nuance than its spoken equivalent, the passé composé.
Who is your favourite French actor, director and film?
Le Dîner de Cons is really funny – my husband and I quote it all the time. But otherwise I’m not a huge fan of French movies.
Where is your favourite place in the city you live to relax and to celebrate an occasion, such as a birthday?
Chez moi. We have a nice balcony overlooking the sea and the vieille ville of Menton – I never get tired of the view.
Menton – Garavan
We thank you Laura for taking time out to speak to MyFrenchLife™. We’ve enjoyed getting to know you and learn about About.com.