Five Weeks in a Balloon
I read my first French novel! Here's a detailed account of the experience:
I started studying French on Duolingo in January 2014. I had never studied French before. In under 300 days, I was able to attempt a French novel and finish it. Wow.
I'm good at languages, but I'm not that good. Duolingo, Anki, Kindle, and other modern electronic resources have really, really changed the game for language learning!
Great blog post. I've been doing similar with reading... not as heavy as «Cinq semaines en ballon» but still a pretty big effort. Keep it up though, reading definitely increases your comprehension of a foreign language.
We seem to have extremely similar paths. I started French in Feb 2014, for no particular reason, and also used Duolingo as my core until I finished the tree in 74 days. I definitely rushed it, and since I had zero French to start, I encountered pronunciation problems and various grammatical traps, inherent to French. I supplemented my study with a few free resources, which I detailed here:
...and am currently working on French movie listening and translations. I enjoyed your previous Kindle post, and found the process of how you use dictionaries while you read to be very interesting. I also enjoyed using Anki, and posted several techniques on how to manipulate databases on my blog. Those posts are consistently the most popular ones that I have written. In fact, study forums have sited my posts, and I was proud that students in other fields have benefited from what I learned and posted about Anki. The Internet has made many things possible, and created communities of people that help each other without ever meeting. Thanks again for your thoughts and ideas, Greg.
I have tried movies a few times, but they're really hard. You need 6,000 word families to watch movies with good comprehension. (Duolingo probably introduces you to 1,000 and two years of college study of a language gives you 2,000). That's better than the 9,000 you need to read novels, but with a movie, there's no equivalent of a Kindle's online dictionary to bail you out.
True. It's very challenging to watch a movie in French, so I pick a movie with solid subtitles. I then go through a process where I watch the movie and get a feel for the relationships, watch it again and transcribe the subtitles, translate the subtitles, and finally read out loud along with the actors. By the time I'm finished, I'm sick of the movie, but I pick up a lot of vocabulary, idiomatic speech, and cadence. I'm currently going through "Les Choristes" on my blog, and then following this with "Un printemps a Paris". I've been fairly literate in French for a few months now, and read on-line newspapers all the time, but my language partners in France, whom I Skype with, keep reminding me about the other half of read and understand, and that's to speak and listen. The whole process is fascinating. Every time I think I've hit a wall, I go through my process and move past it. For films, I use this site:
I detail the movies in my post:
The filmfra site looks good. I'll definitely have to watch "La dernière légion" and "Le pacte des loups"--love those historical films--and I'll check out your blog; too. Thanks! It's interesting that the subtitling for the légion movie does not quite match the French narration; two different translations could be all the better, I imagine.
When I worked on the "Les Choristes" translation, I found that you're lucky to get 90 percent word for word from subtitles, even good ones. The "Les Choristes" script even did not perfectly match the movie. But when you are finished, you pick up a lot of idioms and vocabulary, and they sound correct in your brain. You can almost see the actor in the scene, saying the words. It's made a difference.
That's a great post about free resources. Thanks! (Have a lingot.)
> The Internet has made many things possible. . . .
For language learning it could hardly be beat. What I wouldn't have given for some of those resources when learning to read French! And only after the Internet became available was it possible for me to successfully dust off very rusty Russian from college (never very good), and Latin (with this LISTSERV). Best of all is finding other people with similar interests.
I could not agree more. If you would have told me that I'd be reading French newspapers, just ten months ago, I'd remind you that I only know "merci beaucoup". Along comes the Internet....and people that motivate you to give it a try, and then to keep it up.
Congratulations! Just so you know Journey to the Center of the Earth also has a slow start.
Great post! It's really interesting and inspiring to follow someone else's struggles in the beginning of a single book turning into pretty smooth reading towards the end, when you have learned a lot along the way and also gotten used to the story and to the writing style of the author.
I myself have a few Zolas waiting in my bookshelf -- I used to love his books in translation as a teenager, and am hoping to rediscover him in French soon... For now, I am mostly dabbling in children's books in French and Estonian and still recovering from the shock of having finished my first proper novel in French, a detective novel by Simenon.
Do you have any plans to start learning a non-romance language (or maybe you already are, outside of Duolingo)? It would be very interesting to hear about your methods and experiences with a language that isn't relatively closely related to one you already know.
I already know Japanese, German, and Russian, although the last two are quite rusty now. I can host a technical meeting in Japanese/English and translate both ways for everyone, but I'm functionally illiterate in it. I'm thinking of doing Duolingo German starting in January and seeing how well the Kindle works for reading in German.
Congratulations (have a lingot). The blog post is great, especially the couple of paragraphs about the Kindle and dictionaries.
You wrote (in the blog), "I think I'll try Voyage au centre de la terre next." Do it! Be warned, however, that it takes nearly one half of the book (ch. 18 out of 45 or so) to get below the surface of the planet. However, the trip through Iceland is fairly interesting in itself. And this and this you may find interesting, espec. if you want to work on listening skills.
As you can read Jules Verne now so easily (and again, congratulations and kudos), there is an enormous amount of great French reading of the same difficulty available in the public domain. For instance. Here are plenty of suggestions, since you like adventure stories, at this site or this one.
FWIW, Voyage au centre de la terre was the first book I read in French, 30+ years ago, doing basically what you did as far as dictionary use, etc. goes, although without a monolingual dictionary, and without an English pony (although I sure could have used one!), and you are 100% right--working through a novel this way really improves one's knowledge of French. The method I used, since there was no Kindle, or easily available audio back then, is well described here, should you ever be w/o a kindle when learning some other language. Instead of Duo, Teach Yourself French, by Wilson and Adams (not the newest TY French book!), did the trick.
When learning foreign languages, JV is a good author to have read, as he for a long time vied with Agatha Christie as the most-translated author in the world. Lenin was ahead of them, IIRC, but that was basically a cheat by the Soviets, as there wasn't the demand for his writings, just the grinding out of a supply of translations. So knowing some popular books of JV's, you can probably easily find intermediate material that is already familiar to you in just about any foreign language you may want to learn.
. . . Here's an up-to-date version of the list, under "'Top 50' Authors." Look at #s 4, 17, 18, 20, 21, 45. All authors with a fairly easy style (easier than JV, and more contemporary) whose books should be not too difficult to find.
Wow, that's quite an accomplishment! Less than ten month of practice to read a Jules Verne novel. That is quite something.
You are an inspiration, Greg. Friends and I are (slowly) progressing through Père Goriot. The feeling I get when I can actually see a scene from the novel unfold in my mind's eye from reading only the French is just wonderful.
Fantastic post as usual Greg, and very inspiring that you have made it so far in less than a year. French is next on my list, so I am paying close attention to how you get on, and the resources you use. :)
Here's a simple little site that helped me a lot. It does a nice job of relating the sounds to the IPA characters, and it has short recordings of each.
I went through all of the A1 and A2 exercises (at a rate of one per day) on TV5MONDE. I would listen to the snippet while reading the transcript and try to get to where I could read along.
This helped my pronunciation immeasurably, but it took persistence over months.
I should probably write that up at some point, then. My biggest struggle with French was over the pronunciation. I did a lot of work during the first few months to try to get to where I felt my pronunciation was good enough. Even though my focus is reading, it bugs me if I think I'm pronouncing the words wrong--as in, "totally wrong." I don't expect to acquire a perfect accent, but I do want to be comprehensible.
I have only done up to the first checkpoint on my French tree. For me, the pronunciation v spelling is the hardest part, after studying Italian, which is quite logical, and Finnish, which is completely phonetic.
That's awesome! I'm currently reading through Harry Potter in German (on the 5th book!), and then I'm planning to read the Hunger Games series in Spanish, and then something (probably Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) in French. Actually, I'm thinking of reading half the Hitchhiker's Guide books in French and half in Russian.
That's pretty good! Be prepared for a mild shock when you change authors, though. It turns out that most authors have a set of favorite words and phrases that they use over and over. When you read one person's work, you memorize those words, and the reading gets easy. Then you try another author and you're shocked at how hard it is. I'm trying to limit myself to what linguists call "authentic novels," which means that they're written by and for adult native speakers. That rules out translations, kids books, graded readers, etc. I also avoid anything I've already read in English, and, of course, I try to read different authors. Arguably I'm taking a hard problem and making it harder. :-)
yeah, I want to start with books I already know well from English, then move on authentic ones. Thanks for the warning about switching authors. Also, good luck!
Let us know how it goes. (Especially if you use the method I suggested.) :-)
Félicitations Greg !! My favorite language is Italian and I adore reading aloud Italian books! It is an excellent method to learn a language. Have a lot of fun wiht French books Greg:)
I'll give you a lingot it is so awesome that you are finally so good at french!