https://www.duolingo.com/Restermen

Why is progress so slow!

French is spoken so easily by millions of people world wide and yet, after what appears to be years of study and being immersed in French daily, I know so little? I am at level 16 on Duo and sometimes consider that I am doing really well. Then, a van arrives with two French men on board, they wind the window down and then talk to me in what must surely have been Clingon!! I hardly understood a single word. Where on earth am I going wrong? Has anyone else experienced this or is it just me?

February 25, 2015

45 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Moomingirl

Greg's comment regarding vocabulary is spot on, but I also find the speed of speech to be an issue. My vocabulary is a lot larger now than just the words Duolingo teaches us, but I still struggle a bit with watching TV and listening to the radio.

The problem is that Duolingo doesn't give us much listening practice. I would suggest you start practicing with podcasts or interviews which have scripts. You can just listen a couple of times to get as much as you can, then read along with the script to see how things are pronounced as they speak. A couple of sites I have found useful in Italian are these. I think podclub has a French series too, and I'm sure you can google for others:

http://www.podclub.ch/index.php/it/transmissioni/al-dente-i

http://www.italyheritage.com/learn-italian/documentaries/

When I read the text, I read it through www.readlang.com. That way I can click on any words or short phrases I am not clear on, and they are translated for me. The best part is that they are then saved as flashcards, so you can practice those new words until they become familiar. I have found it hugely helpful.

Then just keep practicing. The more you listen, the better you get it at, but obviously you need to be learning those new words as you go. Try to do as much passive listening as you can. I have downloaded an app for Italian radio, and now I listen as much as I can in my spare time. So, while I'm doing the washing up or whatever, I am listening to Italian. News stations are the best for this, as they have a lot more speech.

Good luck, like anything with languages, it is practice more than anything. :)

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/XaphirreClarity

Thank you for the resources :D

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/GregHullender

Usually, the biggest obstacle to listening comprehension is lack of vocabulary. Duo gives you about 2,000 word families, but you'll need 6,000 to watch movies and 9,000 to read novels without a dictionary.

The best way to get around that (I claim) is to read novels on an e-Reader (like a Kindle) using a bilingual dictionary. It makes the word lookup so fast that you can read novels even if you have to look up 20% of the words. I've been amazed how much of a difference it makes. You can read how I use a Kindle to read foreign novels on my blog, if you're interested.

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Starchord

Actually, I think I disagree. I think it's mainly the speed and lack of clarity and not lack of vocabulary. When I watch a French video with French subtitles I find I'm really reading the subtitles to get an understanding.

I saw one movie when I was in France, I could understand it much much better during the time when the French mobsters were talking with Italian mobsters in Italian - because they then put French subtitles! (Which they didn't do of course when they were speaking French.)

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/XaphirreClarity

I agree with both you. Reading will build on our vocabs and put in to context what we already know but reading alone will not help our listening, pronunciation and conversational skills which is what the original submitter of the post and many of us studying the language dryly at home will find.

Yet I believe that it is not a waste of time to continue listening to movies and TV shows and pod-casts with or without French subtitles to aid our listening skills. Because when you consciously understand a word or phrase here and there you get a sense of reward and I believe the subconscious mind does a lot of background work with respect to finding meaning to the sounds (subconcious vocab building and linking to what you already know).

In time, with regular practice we will learn to make those links to the sounds we hear and the words we know. I just think it is about the time put in. When you learned your native tongue you were immersed by all the sounds around you from birth this was all subconscious at first. That is a lot of hours for the mind to problem solve how it was going to learn the language in the background.

I just don't think we should get put off EVER when we don't understand a flow of our target language. Just to be encouraged whenever we do "catch the gist" or understand the occasional word or complete phrase. To never punish yourself or be annoyed when we don't understand. Because then this will just make your conscious mind conclude...."well this isn't fun, it makes me feel like I am wasting my time/stupid" and shut down the learning process.

Basically what I am saying is, when actively listening, we are using our concious minds, but the noises/words/phrases we don't yet understand, our unconscious minds will work at solving them but only if we persevere with the practice.

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/TajMartin

I did French for two years at school and started it on here and have always found it one of the harder languages to try and learn, especially for speaking and listening, for some reason.

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/BobbieL

I think some of it is the gap between the letters on the screen and the sounds we hear. English has more than its share of pronunciation quirks, but French is pretty systematic about dropping sounds and running words together.

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/XaphirreClarity

What I find is that in English we often don't pronounce letters in the middle of the words and slur the syllables together, yet pronounce the beginning and end of the words. Yet in French, it is the beginning and end of the words that are left off when the language is spoken quickly, the middle of the words are pronounced.

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jean_Morgan

Well! It all depends! Take for example the word "boulangerie". Except if you are in Southern France where every syllable is pronounced, you are likely to hear "boulang'rie" (pronounce boulanj'rie). "Je suis en chemin (I'm on my way) will sound "J'sui en ch'min". But you may also hear something different, like "Je sui zen chemin." Different generations, different regions, different cultural levels mean different types of pronunciation. Often "e" is indeed barely pronounced, especially at the end of words, but there is few general rules. Listening practice and more listening practice and even more listening practice is the key. Your (h)ears have to get accustomed to the beat of French. Mines are not yet totally accustomed with the beat of English. Bye for now.

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo

Your hears

This is delightful, particularly considering the 'h' is usually dropped in French :) Worthy of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jean_Morgan

Sigh! As usual, the devil hides in details. ;-)

February 28, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/hjordisa

What I've found works best for me is to find a TV show that I like enough and am familiar enough with that I don't mind missing large chunks because I can fill in some of the gaps. This isn't too hard in French because they dub pretty much everything. So far my comprehension is vastly improved, but it's still not great. The other day there was a character with an accent (I think it was Russian in the original) and I could tell that the French wasn't native even if I couldn't place it.

If you use a TV show you will have some sort of consistency in vocabulary and speech patterns so it should get easier over time, but if you switch shows it will get slightly more difficult until you get used to the patterns on that show. If you want to do the same with movies (that aren't related) it should give you a wider variety of accents, speech patterns, and vocabulary at the cost of the reinforcement you get from repetition. Progress may seem slower as well, even if it isn't.

February 26, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/XaphirreClarity

Yes exactly, because both our concious and subconscious minds are at work. Our subconscious minds problem solve at filling those gaps.

Is it possible for you to recommend some good shows that you have enjoyed watching in French that?

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/hjordisa

Well for shows that were originally in English you're best just picking something you both like a lot and know well. I'm not particularly bothered by bad voice acting or lib synching unless it's truly horrid, so I can't comment on that sort of thing. I've watched a bit of Futurama and Doctor Who. An animated show has the bonus of not having the lips out of sync if that sort of thing bothers you. If there's a children's show you grew up with that is okay to watch as an adult the language may be slightly simpler. (I watched a bit of The Magic Schoolbus in Spanish.) One thing here is if you find something with French subtitles they tend to be a bit different from the spoken French, which really annoys me but may give you some different ways to say the same thing if you can stand it.

For shows that were originally in French, I haven't watched any (only movies), but Spiral/Engrenages and The Returned/Les Revenants have been highly recommended and are on my list (both are at least partly on Netflix if you use that.) Also I don't know if you like or ever liked Code Lyoko, but that's a French show (I thought it was released in French and English simultaneously but on a quick look I can't confirm.) It turned out to not be nostalgic enough to watch in French for me though. Of course you can watch it dubbed or with English subtitles once to get familiar with it and then again with French subtitles or none. I don't usually, but I'd learn more if I did.

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Starchord

In terms of subtitles not matching the spoken text, it seems that Japanese anime may be the worst. (In both English and French.) It almost seems that the spoken and written texts were translated by different groups of people. (Hmmm... maybe a duolingo type setup?!)

February 28, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/hjordisa

That's it exactly: they were translated by different people. If I have something in its original language with original language subtitles they should [they don't always (netflix can be bad) but they should] match because they're meant for the hearing impaired or other people who for whatever reason will miss stuff without them and any change from the spoken word can lead to subtle differences in meaning. However if I watch something originally in English in French with French subtitles the subtitles weren't made for hard of hearing people. They're mostly for French people watching in English, and even if a deaf or hard of hearing person uses them the translation to French has already lost a bit of meaning although it may annoy somebody using them with, say, the dryer running who can still hear the dub and notice it's different. And that works fine until I come along wanting to use it along with the slightly different French dub to help me fill in some of the gaps in the spoken language. I can't do it, but I have heard people say they like it because they get multiple ways to say the same thing. shrug

February 28, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/bistrotbistrot

Duolingo is a great tool, but I have already noticed that it has a heavy emphasis on the written language and translation.

It teaches you sentences that might not appear very often in everyday conversation, or at all, like "Elle mange le chat noir et puis elle boit le lait de sa vache". Eddie Izzard has famously satirised this approach to language learning in his shows.

Those two van drivers ? They're probably talking like this in contrast: - "Bonjour mad'moiselle, on est désolé d'êtr' en r'tard, ça va ?" - "Ela dit l'lieu où elle veut qu'on laisse tomber cette merde, hein ?" - "Sois pas con, elle peut t'entendre, j't'ai déjà dit" etc. etc.

I found that by practising conversation with francophones, my grasp of the language improved dramatically. Reading dialogue from books or singing French language songs helps too. It's hard at first because spoken French sounds very different to written French e.g. "enfin" is reduced to just "fff", "puis" to "pis", "je suis" to "chui" etc.

Over time you come to understand a word, then a phrase, and then whole sentences, and the day that happens is GLORIOUS. Bon courage !

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/XaphirreClarity

Exactement!

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jorg.Ancrath

I've been on duo lingo for more than a year.

My first year, I was learning French on and off, my comprehension was bad, I would get frustrated because I would stay more than one week on a certain level or a lesson. Sometimes when I got bored I would start a new language course and spending more that one week on that neglecting French and so on.

Last year was a waste to be honest.

When 2015 came, I just thought to myself about what am I doing and what are my true goal. Do I still want to learn it? Why am I learning it? Do I only like the idea of learning a language? Do I only like the fact that I can brag to people here and there about the fact that I am learning a language?

After having some small conversations here and there on Verbling in the English chat-rooms with Francophone people that were learning English, I began to like the feeling that you get when you communicate in a certain language with a person and that person can understand you.

I decided to delete all my TV channels, no distractions what so ever, and only leave my french channel Tv5Monde, and for almost a month now, I've been only watching just french TV, listening to french music, reading french articles online, just immerse myself.

I've started to have conversations in French daily, I'm able to understand my chatting partner almost 70-80% and I'm able to communicate as well.

I think you can learn any language you want, I know, three at the moment, and French to be the fourth, so It's possible, you just have to work to become better and better.

I would like to recommend you to listen to French Podcasts in your ''dead time''. By dead time I mean the time where you are not being productive, this being, when you are cleaning your room, eating, in the car, train, job breaks, on the toilet. ( =D ) Just upload them on your Mp3 and you will see a really big improvement after a month.

If you only do Duolingo, you won't be able to comprehend everything a Francophone person will tell you, duolingo is only good until a certain point.

Sorry for the big post. I just wanted to share my story with you guys.

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jean_Morgan

I agree to say learning a second language on and off is eventually disappointing. It only allows one to keep up with their current level. If you want to progress, then goal- setting and practice in relation to your own goals are the keys.

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jorg.Ancrath

Yes Jean, you are right.

We it comes to learning something I think you should go all the way, because in the end you will feel really great about your achievement.

February 26, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/iivargas

Really Great Jorg.Ancrath. Nice tips, i'm doing it.(in english) :)

February 26, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jorg.Ancrath

Faz isso! With time you will get better and better. ;)

I'm happy that I can help.

February 26, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Liebert_

Thanks for the tips. I spend so much time in train, so I will spend it listening French podcast now.

February 26, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jorg.Ancrath

De nada!

I am happy to help! ;)

You have lots of french podcasts out there, listen to them and your comprehension will get alot better. ;)

February 26, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/gillyflower_

Thank you Jorg! This is all good advice, particularly regarding Tv5Monde.. I also have a little radio that I can tune into a French radio station; with both of these resources they are not only educative but entertaining. I do not understand everything but it gives a glow when you manage to understand bits and pieces or even the gist of what is being spoken. :-) I also found a site where you could hear the news in French spoken slowly, but l have lost its address because of my neglect of French over the past couple of years due to circumstances; so if anyone knows of this site I would be pleased to discover it again. Thank you! :)

March 6, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/DeutscheMaus

Yes, there is a huge difference between what you learn via a language program/classes/textbooks and actually being able to comprehend a native speaker.

I had a Chinese instructor who once told our class that she studied English for TEN years in China and all her friends and classmates were so impressed with her English, etc...then she came to the U.S. for the first time, got off the plane and her very first American, a taxi cab driver, started talking to her outside the airport, and she said she could not understand a single word he was saying to her. ;)

Native speakers talk much faster than a person who has learned the language as a second language, and there is all sorts of slang and so forth..so it is not surprising when someone says, "Sheesh, I spent all this time on my language learning but it is still hard to understand it when it is spoken to me!" It just takes lots of practice and working on your listening skills. Asking native speakers to please speak a bit slower always helps too. :)

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/mattcolor

To be fair, she kind of started out on expert mode. I'm a native English speaker and I only understand about 2/3 of the cab drivers I encounter.

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/gizzard123

Haha, that's exactly it, most of them don't speak English.

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Foudeb
  • 2153

If you think of it, a child learning their mother tongue spends a good 2-10 years on it (from first words to proper speech with understanding of nuances, slang etc). And babies / children have almost nothing else to do all day, so when you think of it all their mental energy (interactions with parents, carers, other children, including play, school even) are all focussed on learning to speak. You, on the other hand, have grown-up occupations to take care of as well and can't devote all your waking hours to a second language. So give yourself some credit :) Maybe keep a routine going (doesn't have to be hours and hours every day) with both active learning (Duo, a textbook, a class, talking to French people etc.) and passive learning (listen to French music, maybe to a French film with subtitles, when you're bored try to think up sentences in French in your head). And keep going - even if it doesn't feel like you're making progress, you still are. The key here is not to give up. Good luck!

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jean_Morgan

I like the difference you stress between active and passive learning: it is so true!

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/DeutscheMaus

Well said Foudeb!

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jean_Morgan

My native language is French. I had the same experience the first time I traveled in the USA. It was SO disappointing. Since that time I privilege real English to exercises. I don't mean to say exercises are a waste of time. I mean I now try to practice (reading, listening, more listening, writing and speaking) about 80% of my learning time and I have 20% time left for more academic exercises. There are numerous opportunities to read and listen on the Internet. It is less easy to find places where you can write - just as I'm doing now - and speak. So you see, you're definitely not alone.

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/KristenDQ

It also may be dialects too. I don't know where you're from but here in America, for instance, we all speak English, but as soon as we open our mouths, we can tell who is from what part of the country. For example, I'm from New England. I can speak to and understand someone from say New Orleans, but I would know that they're from the South because of their accent. Likewise, to them, since I live just outside the Boston area, I may have a thick Boston accent to them. The same is true for other languages as well. Someone who speaks Spanish and is from Spain can easily understand someone who speaks Spanish and is from Mexico, but they would each be able to tell where the other one lives.

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jean_Morgan

Indeed, accents matter a lot, especially in English because it's a worldwide language and, for me, shifting from one accent to another isn't a piece of cake. Fortunately, I love accents. I like every accent and I try to imitate some. Once you have got the sounds and the beat of a language or a dialect, every accent is a music composed by an indefinite collection of speakers. In France (or should I say in French?), we also have several different accents and we also recognize where someone comes from. Are you able, for instance, to hear a difference between someone from Marseille (by the Mediterranean See) and someone from, say, Alsace (by the German border)? I guess you are.

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/DeutscheMaus

Kristen and John, yes, regional accents are fascinating! As Kristen said about the different English accents (and all the slang that comes with them) in the U.S. it is wide and varied. If Kristen talked to me for 5 minutes and heard me saying things like "dude" and "rad" she would know I am from the West Coast! :D

The California surfer slang and dialect made it up to the Pacific Northwest long ago (I live in the Seattle area). When I visit my relatives in Texas, with their "y'all doin' okay?" speech, they think I talk funny, and vice versa. ;)

And I know that no matter how well I THINK I speak in French, and trying as hard as I can to perfect every little accent and pronunciation, I would still talk to you, Jean Morgen, for about 10 seconds and you would instantly say, "Ahh, you have an American accent, I see." Heh heh! I find those things fascinating!

I actually know that Americans LOVE hearing people speak English with an accent from a different country. Americans think foreign accents are quite charming. If you ever heard a foreign person attempting to speak English in the U.S. the first thing Americans say is something like, "Ooooh, I love your accent!! Where are you from??" :D

February 25, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jim_Matthews

I'm in this boat as well. My tree is close to done, but when I listen to the RFI Journal en français facile podcast the words just fly by, and I don't have much sense that I'm learning anything. That makes it hard to make time to do more listening. I love the way Duolingo turns learning into a game, with regular positive feedback, and hope they have ideas on how to do more of that for real-world listening comprehension.

February 26, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jean_Morgan

Jim, have you already started translating texts in the "immersion" section?

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jim_Matthews

No, not yet. I plan to try that after finishing my tree.

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/XaphirreClarity

We have to practice all the time with native speakers. Listen to native speakers, speak (badly) with native speakers and not be afraid to make mistakes. Learning a language without practising with native speakers is like learning to swim on your living room floor and not practising in the pool. This is why it does not matter how many hours you put in on Duolingo. Of course, studying the theory via Duolingo and other language resources are great for building our vocabulary and improving the mechanics of the language but they do not teach you to speak and understand it, the skill of "conversation" is missing. Duolingo should be viewed as just one tool to our learning, not the sole resource.

In addition, the French words and phrases we hear here on Duolingo are in standardized or academic French. The guys in the van were probably speaking quickly in a regional accent using coloquialisms. Much like you probably do in your mother tongue when you are in dynamic with friends, family or colleagues.

We have to get our conversation practice in other ways, I am sure you can think of some ways to practice your French conversation to supplement your French theory.

February 26, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jean_Morgan

Practicing with native speakers is a good way to learn. But you can't always find native speakers around to speak with. There comes the Internet. It is now so much easier than 20 years ago to find real docs in a given language (audio- and video-docs). Have you ever listen to TED or TED-X for example?

February 26, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/XaphirreClarity

Well, that all depends on how shy you are. And on your reasons for learning a language. If you are learning it because you want to make conversation in it then we need to exercise those muscles constantly! With actual people!

I met my partner who is Quebecois in an online virtual word which has people from all around the globe accessing daily and was practicing French (albeit a few words and phrases here and there) via Skype before I had set foot in Quebec. In most large cities there will be social groups found via facebook, yelp etc with speakers of all languages. There are ways to engage with speakers of other languages without actually visiting the country of origin.

For example, we know you speak French, so what is to stop any of us sending you a private message and meeting up for practice via Skype? :P

And it doesn't even have to be a native speaker, I am sure everyone knows someone who knows someone who speaks a little or a lot of your target language. It is about not being shy, reaching out. Say to yourself do you want to be able to communicate or not?

Yes I watch Ted X and Benny Lewis is inspiring with his approach to speaking languages, he is fearless. A little crazy too.

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/xaghtaersis

I pretty much surround myself with the language. I also try to speak the language as much as I can. French is on hold at the moment though. I will start reviving my french using Portuguese in september or so.

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/Jean_Morgan

I also strive for a permanent surrounding by the language I'm learning. What means do you prefer to this point?

February 27, 2015

https://www.duolingo.com/xaghtaersis

For me it is pretty much: speaking with native speakers,watching a lot of videos in my target languages and having all my devices in the target languages. Pour moi c'est: Je parle avec natives et je regarde becaup de videos et tout du mon ''devices'' electronique est en mon gol language.

February 27, 2015
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