Voulez-vous parlez francais avec moi?

img_1051I’m learning French, and whilst not being a natural, I’m enjoying it. One of the reasons I find I keep coming back even when it’s tough is because I like the teaching method. I’m working through Michel Thomas’ (in)famous audio tutorials. You may have tried it yourself – the CD cover tells me along with his Wikipedia entry that he has taught many languages to thousands over the years – and if so, it’s unforgettable even if you’re not so keen.

He begins by telling you two points: first, you must relax completely; and then that there are many words that you already know because English and French (in my case) share a common vocabulary.

But perhaps more interesting is how it works in practice. Michel is accompanied by two students, with the same level of ability as the intended audience, here beginners. Therefore, you feel as if you’re taking part in the discussion, just one of three people there to learn how to speak French.

Crucially, one student is better than the other. The weaker student often struggles to get to grips with new words and forgets the ones we’ve learned (sometimes to comical effect: more than once she confuses ‘voulez-vous’ with ‘vol a vent’). This means that you’re likely to sympathise with at least one student. Some complain of getting annoyed with the less able student but I find it reassuring, perhaps because I’m less capable myself.

Overall it’s the gradual deposits of learning that thicken like a coastal shelf which leave you feeling you are completely able to move on to the next stage without the rug being pulled from underneath. So, the learner is able to say something meaningful – such as the title of this post, which serves only as an illustration of what you can say within minutes – whilst understanding how it’s constructed. It gets you speaking quickly and helps with confidence, surely the most overwhelming problem for the beginner. For those interested in the learner experience in terms of its managed development over a course of study, Michel’s method is revealing.

To aid learning, I’m following a French language tutorial Twitter stream with a daily tweet, as well as the excellent (but slightly tougher) BBC website and its email service. The web makes learning easier. But Michel Thomas’ charm – part expert, part raconteur, part teacher – c’est tres acceptable pour moi, comme ca.

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