As I mentioned in my blog 7 Things I’ve Done En Route to TAPIF, language and cultural preparation has been a big part of my to-do list before departure to France this fall. I thought it might be interesting to dissect that process in a bit more detail in a separate entry.
Even though I’m moving to France in the fall, I don’t claim to be an expert francophile. In fact, I actually feel quite self-conscious about my level of French. It seems like a lot of the people selected for TAPIF have French experience that I don’t have (study abroad, French majors, French minors etc.) Sure, I somehow managed to convince TAPIF that my French skills are good enough to work in France, but I have yet to actually fully convince myself. Maybe I’m just suffering from a little bit of impostor syndrome? In any case, these are some of the things that I’ve been doing to keep up with my language and cultural preparation.
Basic Grammar and Vocabulary
This first category seems pretty rudimentary, but solidifying my grammar and building my vocabulary are a couple of the things that I know I personally need to work on before I leave.
My first resource is a bit old school, but it gets the job done. I find myself flipping back to my textbook from my French grammar course at university. The textbook my course used was Contrastes: Grammaire du français courant (2nd Edition). I don’t actually sit down and read this book for fun, but I use it more as a reference book to look up explanations when I come across a construction I don’t understand. Some might argue that textbooks are expensive and unnecessary in this day and age. You can find most of this grammatical information for free on the internet, but I like this textbook because it identifies common mistakes made by English speakers and explains why it is not grammatically correct. Plus, I already own it from taking a class anyway, so why not use it.
Since I don’t always have the time to sit down with a textbook, I have also been using apps to brush up on French whenever I have a spare 5-10 minutes. I feel like everyone know about Duolingo, but in case you don’t, it’s a website and app that “gamifies” language learning. This means you work through levels and lessons by earning points. Mostly, I like it because it’s easy to do on-the-go, while waiting in line, on the bus, or even right before bed.
FluentU is another one of my favorites. I use the free version because I’m still living on the college student budget. This website offers lessons through a variety of subtitled videos (Youtube, advertisements, movie trailers, music videos etc.). You can choose to take a “lesson” before the video to get acquainted with the vocabulary or you can just go straight to the full length video. At any point, you can hover your cursor over the subtitles, which will pause the video and give you a translation of the word/phrase.
Something that I quickly realized in my language revision process is that I am simply not used to the speed at which native speakers speak. In order to get my ears accustomed to French I have mainly been using two types of media. Podcasts/radio broadcasts and francophone music. I find that these are a good way to challenge my listening skills because I cannot rely on visual cues and I really have to force myself to use my ears.
For podcasts/radio, I have been able to find sources that are tailored to the geographic area and population with whom I will be working. I was really excited to see that the students at my lycée produce their own “radio” show called Chopep’s, which is posted on Soundcloud.
I was also able to find an internet radio station run by college students throughout the Nancy-Metz area called Radio Campus Lorraine. Not only are these podcasts giving me a taste of what everyday French sounds like, they also help me get an idea of what the young people in my region care about.
I also spent some time putting together a French language playlist on Spotify. Of course, I would suggest making a playlist that suits your personal music tastes, but in case you would like any suggestions, here’s my Francophone Playlist.
Because I am an avid internet article reader, the logical place for me to start with reading was with newspaper and Facebook articles. Again, I wanted to tailor my reading to events that were happening locally in France, Lorraine, and eastern France. I made sure to like the Facebook pages and bookmark the websites of several news outlets including, L’Est Républican, France Bleu Sud Lorraine, and Le Parisien.
Unfortunately, one area of reading that I have not really been able to break into is novels and books. I have tried going to my local library to find books in French, but unfortunately my public library carries very little French literature. The only books I was able to find in the catalog were things like dictionaries, verb conjugation reference books, or children’s books translated from English. Children’s books are better than nothing, but they don’t necessarily give me any insights about French culture. It’s at times like this I wish I had taken a French literature class in college.
Cultural preparation is probably one of my favorite parts of getting ready to go to France. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been interested in culture, but this kind of preparation seems the least like “work” to me. In all honesty, it’s probably because I get to watch funny Youtube videos, vloggers, and movies and then tell myself that I’m “practicing French.”
The best tip that I was given for learning about French culture is to find the French equivalent of media that you would enjoy in English. If you like sports, music, gaming, beauty, food blogs, I guarantee someone in France is producing that content. I am forever a proponent of the University of Youtube, as such here are some of my favorite French-related Youtube channels.
Comme une française TV – This channel has videos in English, but provides insights on French cultural norms that you might otherwise overlook.
Cyprien – He makes funny Youtube videos in one-man-show commentary style. He also has a couple of original short films on his channel. The best part, his channel has accurate French subtitles! If you’re a fan of gaming, he also has a gaming channel.
FastGoodCuisine – If food is your thing, this channel is great. FastGoodCuisine does recipe videos, food reviews, and travel videos. The video below is from his recent series, A la recherche du meilleur burger. For some reason I just really enjoy watching French people gawk at American burger culture.
AllyFantasies – Of course, I had to throw a beauty vlogger into the mix. There are tons of French speaking beauty vloggers on Youtube. Start with any vlogger you like et voilà the related videos in the sidebar will lead you to more.
Honorable Mentions – Québécois Youtubers DododFun and PL Cloutier always make me smile with their Canadian French. I’m probably in the minority when I say that I really like the sound of Québécois French. Haha.
Bonus Tip: Typing in French
Even though I took French in middle school, high school, and college, as a PC user, I never learned about the best way to type accents. For all my assignments, I’d been enduring the “copy/paste”and “insert symbol” method in Microsoft Word. One day, I was writing an email to my future supervisor at my lycée and I had had enough. I figured there must be a better way. I can’t write all my future French text correspondences in Word. And sure enough, I learned about something called the International Keyboard setting on PCs. It takes sometime to get used to if you’re used to the standard English keyboard, but I think it’s well worth it and much better than any Alt+Number Code short cut that you might have been told about in previous language classes.
Well that’s all I have for the moment, but I know there are a million other ways to learn French language and culture. I realize that I’m missing a huge portion of language learning, oral skills. So, I’d love to hear any other suggestions people might have!