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So you want to speak french ?

Learning languages | Choosing your language | Francois Micheloud

French Indo-European:Romance –––
A favorite among upper class people worldwide, french is less in vogue now, but still attracts a lot of people fascinated by the cuisine, litterature and great country it can open. As Barry Farber says :"No matter your other language achievement, you will be judged by your french"

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Introduction - ©www.micheloud.com


Moderately useful unless you're into haute cuisine or France related activities : whatever great minds french can have, they are poor polyglots. If you go to France and want to understand something of the country, speaking french is a must.
Some people say it's the most beautiful language they know, maybe for the culture associated with it.
Chic factor
French is one of the most chic languages to speak, recalling diplomacy or luxury restaurants for others, left wing intellectuals for others. A note for our American friends here : if you speak french so badly that people can't understand you, it's better not to speak, because the french are not forgiving.
About 75 mio speak french as their mother tongue, but a further 55 mio know it as a communication language.
France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, some parts of Africa.
Regional variations
Mainly in accents and some words, like the belgian maousse, the Swiss panosse or the Canadian breuvage, but if you go deep enough into Quebec it might take you a few hours before you get fluent with the locals. As always, accents are a matter of cultural domination, but as a Swiss I still advise you to learn french in France. The also have an accent, but it's the mainstream.
France is the most visited country on earth for good reasons, and you could spend a lifetime there. Knowing the language helps a lot.
Litterature, high brow films, incredible museums, some rather good newspapers (although often very self centered and partisans), some TV channels should keep you busy for a long time.


Difficulty - ©www.micheloud.com
The tricky part is mainly the vowels, with many strange nasal sounds (a close rival to Brazilian portuguese) that foreigners have a hard time to master. mŻ, peint, aucun, paon, pont, saut, vote, etc... all are a variation of a vowel.
Similar to other romance languages, with the difference that some things are still written but no longer spoken, which does not help the student.
Many words will come easily to people who already speak another indo-european language, or even better, a romance language.
Much more difficult than spanish and than it could be. The french language is "conserved" by a very conservative body of septueranian, the Acadťmie FranÁaise, who decide how the language should be written and spoken. Set up under Louis de XIV, this institution has freezed the language in an illogical orthograph where you can spell a given sound a 3, 4 or more different ways depending on the whims of history. And if you think that you can write as you you wish as long as people understand, keep in mind that this the country where people watch the Dictťe on the TV !
Overall difficulty
I rate this language as –––, that is, rather difficult to learn, at least for people who do not speak other romance languages. Orthograph is difficult, phonetics not easy, people unforgiving for errors, so you must be more careful that you could be, say, in russian.
Time needed
One year of work for normal people, less if you work hard or are just bright.


Learning material - ©www.micheloud.com
Books and tapes
There's a wealth of material to learn french. Among the best - if not the cheapest - packages, are :

Pimsleur Speak and Read Essential French, 3 volumes, 90 lessons, 45 hours. The best deal is to buy through Amazon.com, as they are even cheaper than the publisher, Simon and Schuster.

FSI Basic French, published by Barron's Educational Series for about $55 through the link below, cheaper than anywhere else I know :

(I have tested these methods for other languages with great success)

The standard Diploma that you can get from french schools around the world is the "Alliance FranÁaise". I suggest you try your hand in France, there are many good teachers there.


Learning languages | Choosing your language | Francois Micheloud