Advice for struggling French language students – 2
Camille Chevalier-Karfis of frenchtoday.com shares expert advice on how to take your French, particularly speaking, beyond structured grammar classes.
In the first episode of this series, Camille Chevalier-Karfis of frenchtoday.com gave advice on group classes and private tutors. She evaluates the other major learning methods and outlines how to pick the best one for you.
3- Self-teaching methods
Pros: Cost. Convenience. Fun to use.
Cons: You will not learn French. No feedback. No grammar. No real person.
Who has not seen a box of Rosetta Stone for sale in a mall? While self-instruction methods can be a great complement to a formal instruction, I strongly believe none of them can teach you French by itself. Why? No feedback. How will you know you pronounce the words correctly?
The voice graph? Talk of a scam! They pick up your voice modulation, not your pronunciation… Worse, these methods often lack any solid grammatical structure, and you cannot master French without it.
Other languages? Maybe. But not French. And everything is being ‘fed’ to you: you’ll never come up with a subject of conversation: that is not how real life works!
So, again, let me reinforce my message: they make great complements of lessons: you’ll learn new vocabulary, they will reinforce things you’ve learned, they are fun to use. But they are not efficient on their own.
Of course, whatever you get, audio is a must.
4 – Immersion programs
Pros: You are surrounded by the language and its culture. Many opportunities to speak.
Cons: Price. Big danger of “fake” immersion.
The big danger of so-called immersion programs is that you might not be in real immersion. You’ll be getting group lessons, and then, you’ll be alone. Or with other foreigners (I made great progress in Spanish as I was studying in Oxford, England. All my fellow students were Spanish… Can’t say I learned a lot of English though). A host family might not take the time to talk to you, or you can be stuck with toddlers and working parents…
To get the benefits of immersion, you need to make sure you get the opportunity to speak French. A lot of it! And it’s not because you are in the country that it is going to happen.
Of course, many of you have fond memories of your trip to France in a school: it’s fun, you do learn a lot, discover the culture, etc… Some schools are great, offer great curriculums and activities to entertain their students. Some host families do care and teach a lot to their guest. But I also know many students who had bad experiences, didn’t get to practice French much, were mostly by themselves and ended up spending a lot of money without improving their French all that much.
Thankfully, there are some great immersion programs out there: as one example check out immersion at a teacher’s house: this is the best of the best, because you are guaranteed to speak a lot of French, and have someone who can explain your mistakes and correct them. I highly recommend this option; it’s the best and fastest way to learn French. Be careful though: there are some scams out there, so always check references, ask for a signed agreement stating clearly the conditions of your stay, pay a deposit but most of the money when you get there and you actually see your quarters and meet the teacher.
If you decide to go to a school, check the age of their students. Being surrounded by teenagers might get a little dull for a grown-up. Check their reviews, their curriculums, ask if they have an audio lab, what kind of outside activities they offer… And again, paying a deposit is fine, but pay most of the money once you’ve actually visited the place, met the teacher(s) and your host family (or visited the apartment etc…). When you are going to pay is the key; if you have prepaid the whole thing, then you have almost no power to change anything you don’t like.
5 – What I would do?
To sum up, you need to be smart when picking a learning method. And you need to be honest about your learning abilities. If I was a student of French, this is what I would do:
- I would definitely start with some private lessons, to make sure the foundations are good.
- If I could afford it, I would then go to an immersion at the teacher’s house, to learn a lot fast, and enjoy the culture.
- I would get some simple, level-adapted audio self-teaching tools for self-instruction to study on the side.
- I would join a good group (cheaper) or continue with private lessons (faster and adapted to your own goals and needs).
Enjoy and good luck.
Thank you Camille for providing expert advice to My French Life™ members and readers. We appreciate learning how to take our French to the next level with the learning method that best suits each one of us.You can read Episode 1 of our 2 part advice series with Camille Chevalier-Karfis here. All Images © Camille