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French lessons

forever a student

by Kasia on June 29, 2010

I just finished an intense course at La Sorbonne. It was exactly what I needed, (and feared), to get back into the groove of speaking French. And simply, to provide a routine to my days. My life as of late is the dream of many, my Italian included. Early morning walks from the right bank to the left, gazing at a tranquil Seine, studying in a cafe in the Latin Quarter overlooked by the Pantheon (dream ends here), hours of phonetics classes making vocal sounds I did not know were possible, and many more hours of irregular verb conjugations combined with the seemingly infinite grammatical nuances of the French language. I learned ALOT. In a very short amount of time. I was focused. I studied. I made it a point to understand and after 4 long weeks of nearly 6 hours of French studies a day, I feel slightly more overwhelmed and much more fluent. It was all well worth it (though there were indeed moments of protest). And yes, all the rumors are true, La Sorbonne WILL make a good student out of you! I must add that this experience reigned supreme over my months at the Alliance Française. Perhaps I needed the discipline. Or perhaps this time I was ready to learn. 

As a reward for my diligence, or simply because we are both in need of a holiday, tomorrow we are flying to Corsica. This time to explore the North. Once again, to be lost in the magical Île de Beauté.


living a language

by Kasia on March 12, 2010

I have decided to take a break from studying French the traditional way (also known as taking classes), given that I can almost speak naturally in the present tense, delving occasionally into the past and future, excluding certain irregular verbs. I am doing my best to find ways to immerse myself in the culture and learn through speaking, observing, doing…in other words, learn by the act of ‘living’. So far it’s been quite a sensory adventure!

Listen. It’s interesting how much we actually do understand when we need to. I recently had my coffee read by a Turkish woman, an apparent expert in such matters. When someone is speaking to you about your life and relative ‘pursuits of happiness’ you listen! And somehow, I understood. I did have a friend with me to translate, in case I completely misunderstood my fate. It was surely an experience. Do I believe what she told me, (or what I think she told me)? That remains to be decided. What I do know is that surely this is the path that is assigned to me. But I did not need a ‘fortune teller’ to confirm that.

Watch. Since I don’t have a TV at home, and that seems to be a great way to learn French, I decided to try the French Cinema. (In my opinion one of the best in the world). My first film in French was Coco Avant Chanel. Thankfully Audrey Tautou is expressive enough to be understood without words! I was deeply moved by the scenes, by what I imagined was taking place, and as soon as the film was finished I read the history to better understand the story of this impressive woman. Was this experience a success? More or less, or less than more, but it was surely an attempt! Ironic that once upon a time I would only watch foreign (mostly French) films and now I am limited to Hollywood blockbusters, another motivation to learn French!

Read. I grew up reading the The New York Times and look forward to the day when I can read the French equivalent. Does it even exist? Meanwhile, whenever I pass a 20 Minutes journal, found in most metro stations, I pick it up, and attempt to read it. This seems to be the best way to learn a language, by understanding the literary construction. If it’s an interesting enough article, preferably about art, travel or the state of affairs in America, I will do my best to decipher this linguistic puzzle. This too is a great way to understand the people and culture, as the written word is taken quite seriously in France. Next on my reading list is Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau, my first (adult) French book….

Look. I spend a lot of time walking around the city, exploring, reading the signs on streets, in store windows… Everywhere I look I am learning, searching for words in my dictionary. To understand, for example, why the trendy Cambodian restaurant is closed on a Saturday night. ‘Partir voir la neige’ read the sign. Ah yes, the owners have ‘gone to see the snow’. (Only in France!)

Taste. This is surely a great way to learn a language, considering Paris is a gastronomic capital of the world. Taste the menu, to be certain of what you are eating, fearlessly of course. Coupled with a good glass or two of wine the conversation is sure to flow more smoothly!

Speak. As often as possible I express myself in French, rather creatively I might add, to whomever will listen. Simply leaving the house provides many opportunities in which to practice. My conversations with the woman at the local boulangerie are rather limited, as with the friendly man at the vegetable stand (though I am learning a lot about herbs!). I suspect it’s my hairdresser who notices my progress most of all. We almost speak as though we were friends, versus when I first arrived to Paris I would simply point and smile. Most of all I speak at home, with the most patient of teachers who has himself experienced what it feels like to live in a world of misunderstandings.

What great sensory experiences am I missing…


lessons learned in French class…

January 26, 2010

TweetI am learning much more in my French class than the seemingly endless conjugations of irregular verbs. Namely, the geographical locations and vivid descriptions of ‘les DOM-TOM’, the French islands scattered within the world’s oceans. (Perhaps in Martinique there’s an extensive French program and I could add Creole to my language skills?) My last assignment, […]

French 101

January 4, 2010

TweetToday I began my French classes, a new chapter in my life as a student. When I finally decided that the most successful way to learn a language is to speak with people other than my local baker, butcher and pharmacist (though we were having some rather colorful conversations as of late), I was debated […]

the living language

October 8, 2009

TweetLearning a language is not merely a lesson in the linguistic nuances of a culture, it is a lesson in humility. This I have learned quickly through my expansive collection of children’s books (Babar and Martine being my favorites). I have tried several times in my life to learn French. Convinced that I was once […]