May. 4th, 2015

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So, in my 2014 wrap-up post I mentioned that I had resolved to get better at French. I think it's going fairly well, though learning a language is one of those things where the more you know, the more you grow to understand the depth of your ignorance.

French has been a lifelong struggle for me. My mom's parents were immigrants from France, and she was fully bilingual. I learned some French from her talking to me as a kid, but she had estranged herself from the entire rest of her family before I was born, so there were no monolingual relatives around (which is the circumstance under which kids tend to retain heritage languages).

When they started offering languages in school, I picked French over Spanish without hesitation, even though Spanish would obviously have been far more useful in California. I wanted to learn my mom's language. I didn't give it much thought at the time (what can I say, I was twelve) but in hindsight I think I was really hurting for family connections. This was around the same time my mom was pushing away my dad's family as well, for stupid reasons that aren't relevant enough to go into here, and it gave me an isolating feeling of being cut off from my roots.

Anyway, French class. Since I had a slight head start, was highly motivated, and loved the teacher, I did great. Unfortunately, when I moved up to high school, the teacher there was an absolute asshole, so my two years in middle school were the only formal instruction I ever got.

Every once in a while I've tried to pick it up again, but I've never been consistent enough about it, and have felt discouraged with just how little you can say and understand at an "intermediate" level. Which of course has left me stuck at that level. The biggest barrier for me is vocabulary; I think my mistake has been that I tried to learn mostly by reading, but I wasn't stopping to look up words when I could figure them out by context. But being able to get the gist isn't fluency, especially not when it comes to being able to actually talk or write rather than just read.

Fortunately, the internet is full of free tools for this sort of thing. I finished the French Duolingo course pretty quickly and easily, and I still use it to practice a bit. But what I think is starting to make much more of a difference is building up my vocabulary using Anki, a program to make your own flashcards. It keeps track of which cards you get wrong and repeats them more often until you start getting them right, while easy ones get repeated at much longer intervals so you don't forget. (Duolingo's review function doesn't seem to remember which lessons I struggle with, but just gives them at random.) Now instead of skimming over words I don't know, I write them down to add later, and I actually learn them. It's so exciting to be reading a book or playing a game (I switch my games to French for practice) and come across one of the words I put into Anki from another source and realize that YES, I KNOW THAT ONE!!!

So I hope this is going to be the time when I really learn it and don't give up. It feels like it is.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth. Feel free to comment wherever you're comfortable.


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