Two years ago I wrote a blog post about my desire to learn how to read French. Unfortunately, I put aside that project to learn German for my trip to Berlin. But over the past few months I have been putting a lot of effort into learning French. I can now read a simple “facile à lire” book in French (i.e. easy to read). Learning how to read French is actually a very ambitious goal because you need to know several thousand words just to read a children’s book. However I have made several improvements to my study methods which are yielding results.
First, I am now adding hundreds of pages to my notes on individual words. So far I have created detailed notes on 78 adjectives, 37 adverbs, 24 prepositions, and 173 verbs. It is unnecessary to take notes on nouns since the same nouns occur over and over again in the sample sentences I collect, although I do have a few vocabulary lists. Each page in my notes includes as many sample sentences as I can find from several sources and an image which illustrates the word used in a film poster or book cover. I like to search for just the right image because it helps me to remember the word and I discover new French cultural products that way. This is a tedious exercise but it is probably improving my French more than anything.
Second, I have bought many children’s books that are designed to be easy to read. Many language learners fancy themselves as sophisticated intellectuals so they immediately try to read the greatest works of literature in their target language. This is a big mistake because literature represents the most sophisticated use of a language and a beginner is not ready for that. There are actually many books that are designed to be easy to read. These books are intended to encourage young children to learn how to read, but a language learner can use them too. My favorite sources of French books are J’aime lire and Facile à Lire. I’ve read five of the Facile à Lire books so far, levels 1 and 2.
Third, I have started to do research on trips to French cities like Montreal, Lyon, and Paris. I usually compile my own custom travel guides for my major trips. This requires a lot of detailed research. I find it rather inspiring and I learn a lot about the geography and resources available in a city in the process. Planning a trip is a great way to learn more about a culture, assuming you really do your homework. Recently I’ve been doing some armchair exploration of Lyon. Lyon is a large city in France which seems to be virtually unknown to the English speaking world. There is only one guidebook for Lyon available in English, the Thomas Cook Pocket Guide. However, there are many French travel guides for this city so I have ordered a few from Amazon.fr. They will be entirely in French but I should be able to read them a bit.
|Lyon Pocket Guide, 3rd (Thomas Cook Pocket Guides) (9781848483736): Thomas Cook Publishing: Books
The fourth thing I’ve done is buy several French textbooks from Amazon.fr. This should really help me to explore French culture. I bought five textbooks. It was very expensive due to the shipping costs but fortunately the French don’t try to gouge their students by charging them hundreds of dollars for a required textbook. Most French textbooks are reasonably priced.
It is difficult to choose a French textbook so I will described the ones I bought. A geography textbook proved to be an interesting purchase. I’m not quite sure what this course is supposed to teach as part of the French education. It seems to combine geography with social studies, urban planning, and world affairs. The book features a lot of maps and charts. Geography would be a rather curious subject in American high schools.
|Géographie 2de Programme 2010 : Jean-Louis Mathieu, Viviane Bories, Eric Janin, Heinrich Jannot, Collectif : Livres
I liked the textbooks on literature more than the geography textbook. I was surprised by how much I already know about French literature. These books are way beyond my reading level but they feature lots of photos and illustrations including famous artwork. I tried to find textbooks on contemporary literature rather than medieval literature so I only bought volume 2 of the Bordas textbooks.
|Littérature, tome 2. XIXe et XXe siécle : Prat : Livres
My favorite of all the textbooks is a Français textbook which would be similar to our English textbooks, featuring literature rather than actual language instruction. This textbook was especially interesting for its sections on French theater and drama. I have forgotten all about French drama. I really should search for some contemporary French drama in print because plays are short and easy to read.
|Franï¿½ais 2e empreintes littï¿½raires : Programme 2011 : Fabienne Pegoraro, Coralie Doux-Pouget, Estelle Marie Provost, Sandrine Nunez, Collectif : Livres
I also bought two textbooks on history. These proved to be textbooks on World History and only showed some bias towards French history. You would be disappointed if you bought these textbooks expecting a detailed account of French history. I liked the book on 20th Century history better than the other book. This book includes material on contemporary events like the World Trade Center attack.
|Histoire 1re éd 2011 – Manuel de l’éléve : Jean Hubac, Jérémie Ferrer-Bartomeu, Ivan Dufresnoy, Anne Descamps, Marianne Boucheret, Baptiste Léon, Bruno Jégou, Guillaume Bourel, Marielle Chevallier : Livres
The other history textbook provides an overview of European History with an emphasis on general trends.
|Histoire 2e : Programme 2010 : Sébastien Cote, Collectif : Livres
I would recommend a Français textbook and maybe a book on French drama. As an IT professional, I suppose I should search for a computer science textbook in French. I bet there are more interesting used textbooks but it is difficult to buy them on the French version of eBay. Most sellers won’t want to ship overseas. However, the French version of AbeBooks often has reasonable shipping rates.