Today I finished my French tree: What worked and what did't work
It took longer that I thougt it would, almost 17 months, I never had a French language class and now I can read news in French and I understand about half of the audio in Journal en français facile.
Duo is actually pretty good, it was drabacks but I used it as my primary tool for most of the time. The best is that the learning unit is a full sentence, that is you hear a full sentence, you hear the liasons.
Comments in the Duo pages, they are great, I tried to skim thru comments for questions that had 20 or more comments. In particular, thanks to Sitesurf, her patience, understanding and willingness to explain difficult topics made a huge difference to me. Also, a number of other learners clarified or put in perspective some of the questions. Notably, n6zs, DianaM, but many others had great explanations!
IPA. I pretty much looked up every word I learned in wikitonary, primarily to see the IPA translation. Yes, does have a bit of a learning curve, but it really helps to understand the correct pronuntiation. I really wish Duo added IPA transcriptions to every excercise. Also, for full sentences, I used a site that provides IPA transcriptions: http://easypronunciation.com/en/french-phonetic-transcription-converter
TTS (Text to speech), Duo TTS engine at the moment is not very good, When In doubt, I would use www.ivona.com or even Google (I like Ivona better, but even google is better than Duo robo-girl most of the time)
Music and videos, I have always liked French vocal music, (Along the way I realized that Dalida is probably my faborite singer). There is a series of videos with lyrics on the following channel, I downloaded a bunch of them: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXwBuOcww3tMLUmdD6Z_ylA
I had the advantage that my native language is Spanish, that helped to understand the grammar part, still one thing is to thunderstand the concept and another entirely different is to correctly and consistently apply gender/plural agreement in verb conjugations!
I consistently used at least two french dictionaries:
Wikitonnarie: I bookmarked it as https://fr.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/%s and used it as a keyword, so I could look up a word very easily. On Chrome you can do do that too, it is called custom search strings. I also used the following off line wik apps: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=livio.pack.lang.fr_FR=en (Free offline dictionary based of wikitonnarie) and Dictionnaire Le Robert Mobile (Like $6 US, great dictionary, includes IPA)
Before a DUO verb unit I went to http://leconjugueur.lefigaro.fr/regle to understand what the particular tense was about, suffixes, etc.
For practice, The best by far is using DUO timed practice I practiced a unit until it I would feel comfortable with it, usually getting 10 good responses before running out of time. that is much more than it is required to keep the units golden, but also takes care of the playing Whac-A-Mole syndrome. (Edit: To me, it sounded like Spanish guacamole).
Provide Feedback on Duo's excercises, they will get fixed, yes, it seems that it takes a long time, but they do review them, just please add as much detail as possible and even references that support what you are saying, simply pointing to the "comments" might not be sufficienty clear, assume they get thousands of erroneous feedback requests per day.
I used a third dictionary at times: http://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/ in particular for those times that you belive Duo might be wrong and you need to absolutely establish what a word means.
Read the news in French: several good apps for that, RFI and Français 24 provide text, audio and some video as well.
What did not work
Expect that any single tool will be sufficient or perfect. Yes, Duo has limitations, some very silly examples at times, and has been blatantly wrong at times. Yes, Duo's TTS is consistently bad at times, Still an excellent tool, but you need to use other tools (IPA specially) to catch some issues.
For about 6 months I left Duo and went with babbel.com, I did learn lots of vocabulary, and they do have some good explanations on verb conjugations, But, most of the time, the unit of learning was a single word and I felt the input paradigm for both the website and the app are not very good. I think that works better if you already have a good deal of French knowledge and you need to pick up vocabulary in specific areas (You can go to any lesson you want, no need to complete a "skill" to unclock the next one)
Initially I would just did the skills and was not very concerned about keeping the tree golden, then I realized that It was taking me longer to understand the new material because I had not internalized the prior material.
Wow! Good for you!
This is a great list. I actually quit Duo for quite a while because of the terrible French voice, and then accidentally fell into Italian and ended up back here... I'm going to have to figure out some way to deal with that French voice, and your IPA suggestion is a good one.
Thanks for the comparison with Babbel. I've been thinking about trying that after finishing my tree.
And have you tried Lingvist? It's free in beta, and I found it was a good help for newspaper-type vocab building & review.
Congrats again :)
The French voice sucks, but if you already know how to pronounce things (from your travels, French classes, etc..) then it is bearable. I never hit the French lessons as a complete beginner, so I knew where the robot voice strayed from how a human would sound.
Yeah I agree, the French voice does suck and it's one of the reasons why I stopped doing French on here, other than the fact that I'm putting my focus towards Swedish.
I downloaded PDF files of Teach Yourself Complete French and Teach Yourself Improve Your French with mp3 files of the audio CDs that come with these books and I plan on going over those when I'm done with Swedish, hopefully they will be decent enough if not good.
That's a pity. For French pronunciation, you have us to help. The voices are not so bad through. If you use the forum on the French lessons, and ask for a forvo pronunciation, people will give you, no problem.
I thought I was the only one that hated that terrible french voice!! The enunciation is terrible and it sounds kind of low. The spanish and german voices are strong. I do enjoy learning french though, so when I finish my 3 other languages I will finish french.
Hi volumniax, I had not used lingvist, I tried it a bit and it has some good sound, It looks good to read and get some more practice. Thanks!
Why is the Italian voice so much better? The Italian sounds like a real person. (Well, except for pronouncing "usa" like "U.S.A.")
Congratulations! French is such an amazing language. You provided lots of good resources and tips, thank you for those :)
Thanks to your post I researched and created an extension to add IPA transcriptions to sentences in french lessons.
Here is the post https://www.duolingo.com/comment/6219262
Congrats and thanks for the good tips. I feel terminally unhip asking this, but what is 'playing guacamole syndrome?' Avoidance? Learning small bits of a language (totally could not make that work with the beautifully unified nature of guacamole...) Or perhaps just eating guacamole instead of studying French? Felicitations regardless!
Just occurred to me: Perhaps, as a native Spanish speaker, you could hear 'Whac-a-Mole*' as 'guacamole?' It fits better with the context and you do play 'Whac-a-Mole.' If so, I fully support the beautiful Spanish term replacing the ugly American-ish one... Sinon, alors, on peut manger guacamole et aussi on étudie français. ; j
Hi Jksmith, you are right! I'l fix it right away, I think when I fist saw a Whac-A-Mole I didn't realize it as a trademark derived from the whack onomatopoeic! And I love guacamole, so that was what stuck in my mind! Thanks!
D'accord! Ah, though you did fix it, and fair enough. In school, they always told us how 'serge de Nimes' became 'denim' during the Gold Rush. But what I never thought about until this little exchange is that there had to be a time when the whole thing tipped -- that is, someone and then a critical mass, and then everyone stopped saying it 'correctly' and the new word became correct. Hm! Language musings aside, I am totally up for a game of guacamole.
Thanks Juan-Manuel for sharing your experiences and insights. I tried babbel.com for 6 months too while I was working on the French tree. It uses human voices and includes grammar explanations. I also needed to quickly recognize the conditional which was giving me trouble for some reason and babbel helped me with that. However, you have to contact babbel to cancel your subscription when it's done or whatever subscription you signed up for will automatically renew. I find that to be a bit unscrupulous since I suspect many people aren't aware of that or forget to cancel and get charged renewal fees even after they think their subscription has ended.
Hi tmet, you are right, to cancel Babbel you have to watch it closely, the end of subscription date is kind of hidden, and then you need to remember to ask them to cancel the subscription before the renewal date, (After cancelling, I got the impression that I could had cancelled weeks in advanced and that it would have continued until the stated end of subscription date, go figure)
Thanks for your review. I'm new, so, I needed to read something like this!
Thanks for the lingvist referral. I've been on the site for about an hour and it has a lot of content for building vocabulary, audio files to improve listening skills and reading material (which I haven't tried yet). You can select your level (easy, intermediate, or advanced) so I think I will be able to improve a lot using this site.
I agree. When the TTS says "Sont" it's like a 2-year-old pressing his face on the microphone.
I had never heard of Ivona, but I love it! I was kind of desperate because the TTS for Swedish isn't that good and I really want to pronounce it well. Thank you very very much!
Félicitations Juan-Manuel1 !! I like too Babbel, there I learned my Italian, it was great when we had rooms to chat in many languages, it helped me much!! But learning on Babbel is not free... Have a great Tuesday and a Happy New Year Juan-Manuel, greetings from France ;-)
Hi Batomouch, Thanks, I liked Babbel huge vocabulary and grammar explanations but, I was hathving trouble using those concepts, simply the excercises there were not suficient for me, I felt Babbel was more for people refreshing the language or that already had some basis of the language.
Merci and Bonne année!
Congrats and very informative post. I jsut wanted to add that I think the Spanish TTS is actually really good, definitely the best one out of all the langauges I have heard on here.
Hi SuperDescartes, Thanks, and yes, I tried Duo's Spanish TTS and it is actually very good, it sounds natural and it does not have any strong national accent. I also Duo Italianis using ivona TTS, and there were good comments about it, (At least it sounds well to me, and so far, I have not found anything too far off).
Good analysis. What I thought was missing was some units where they bring everything together in more of a dialogue or conversation where you have to translate/respond etc. Yes i can say "She has a bank account" but it would be really effective to have a unit where I am actually going into a bank and opening an account... etc etc.
Hi wyeager84, thanks, hey, I think those interactive one on one conversations are great, and I plan on doing something like that, but I think that is probably the last step, Duo was great to get me going in French, now I am focusing in fully understanding news (both to keep on training my ear and to gain vocabulary), then the one on one sessions would be really worth.
Awesome; congrats on finishing your tree! Hopefully you'll be able to do further learning to enhance your skill in French. :) I'm working towards learning French here, and I'll take some of these tips into consideration, thank you for sharing them!
Congratulations on your accomplishment and thanks for your suggestions and input. I agree that language students should use multiple sources. I actually started out on Babbel with Portuguese. I was disappointed to discover that there was nothing beyond the beginner level. So I was glad to discover duolingo to review and build on what I learned of Portuguese in Babbel. I returned to Babbel later to learn a little French prior to spending a few days in French speaking Canada. I didn't spend enough time on it to feel comfortable speaking (plus every time that I tried, whatever I said came out in Spanish--which I already speak fluently--or Portuguese), but I did understand a lot more than I expected. I still use both Babbel and duolingo for French. Sometimes you can get a good deal on Babbel. I really think that for a language program that you pay for, it's very reasonably priced. I have a note on my calendar to remind myself of the subscription renewal date. It is a little tricky to find the instructions about cancelling the subscription, but as long as you get in touch with them before the renewal, cancelling is no problem. I like the conversations, the cultural information and the voices on Babbel (I hate the duolingo voices for both French and Portuguese). The grammar explanations can also be helpful. Basically the two programs complement each other. Now if I can just work up the nerve to go to some French and Portuguese speaking meetup groups in my city to work on my speaking... but all in good time. I also listen to podcasts and radio stations around the world through TuneIn radio. No one program (just like no student or teacher) is perfect. But with some variety and persistence, you can become proficient in another language and enjoy most of the journey.
Babbel has great material, i like having visual clues as well, but I was mostly getting words, just words, The grammar lessons are very good but it is kind of a one time one thing because if I had a question on say tous I would had to repeat most of the lesson, and there was no easy way to skip the initial vocabulary part. That vocabulary part is nice to do once, but, ronce you know the words, I found no way to skip it, you still have to do it, three times each word, ;)
At the time I liked it, (and stayed with it for I think like 9 months total), and really loved the dialogs, they were specially refreshing after sentences like Le requin vert mange la pomme rouge, ;)
And I totally agree with you that some variety and persistence are key, and that, after all you have to enjoy what you are learning, yes, we know every language has some weird parts, and that prepositions seems to be random in all languages. Still you enjoy it because it is a different way of describing the world we live in!
I have just completed the French tree and am at level 12. How do you reach higher levels?
I just answerd this question in the French to English forum. You reach higher levels by getting more points. You can get to level 25 with a lot of practice/translation.
Your level does not reflect how far down (or high up) the tree you are. It is a reflection of how many points you have earned toward the language. Points are earned by doing drills.
That French is terrible which is also true for the Irish voice. The German voice is very clear however.
I never understood the hate for the French audio, it's not perfect but neither is the English voice ( can't deal with English homographs for starters ). I hated it at first too, but grew to comprehend it just fine as I exposed myself to more French media.
Hi curlyeric A perfect TTS requires understanding of the text, which is a bit too much to ask for, so I would expect that every TTS will trouble with homographs, in French tous is pronounced differently deppending on the meaning, same for read in English. In fact the reason they are pronounced differently is to differentiate the intended meaning. Still to overcome the known issues with Duo's French TTS, a beginner has to be in contact with other sources or methods, for me IPA was the best method to understand the French pronunciation. Either way, Duo is a great primary tool, which is a lot more that can be said of most language learning tools, but no tool can be expected to be correct 100% of the time. Thanks!
Thanks for your post, it came at a pretty good time for me as I've just begun French. Plenty of tips and guiders for me and a also a time scale (17 months) to bench mark myself too.
Fantastic discussion Juan Manuel. Quite an inspiration. I'm learning french and for the first time I'm taking it seriously. I noticed you are at level 21 in Italian. Could you comment on your experience learning French and Italian at the same time. I started that way and found it confusing. I've decided I'll get to level 25 (in about 11 more months :-) and then I'm going to start Italian again.
Welcome! For French and Italian, I also had trouble to learn them at the same time, I did some research and it is well documented that you can learn two languages at the same time BUT, at least one of the following needs to be true:
The languages have to be different enough (like a Romance language and a Germanic one). This of course is not true for French and Italian, they are too similar and you will get mixed up.
You have to have already developed what they call a "core" for one of the languages, that is, you should already fell comfortable with one of them. What I did is that I suspended Italian until I finished my French tree and then re-started Italian.
Last thing, after the French tree, and after about on Italian, I have done some Italian for French speakers. That is actually a lot of fun and it helps to contrast both languages, but again, you have to have that French core developed or it would be more confusion than contrast!
Have fun learning languages!
Thanks for your reply. Italian for French speakers: great idea. I'll follow your advice. Best regards.
Congratulations on your achievement. Thank you for providing a list of useful links to help others to learn languages. Well done. You deserve 10 lingots from me.
Thank you Fantatico, it is great to see that someone with as much expertise as you have would think the comments here as useful!