Picture source: http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Becoming A Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkey (Learning French: Part One)

If you don't get the title, please click here.

For a while I have been wanting to learn a new language. In high school I took a year of Spanish and then found out that it was not required to graduate. Needless to say, I took no more Spanish. When I first enrolled at the college, I signed up for Japanese. (They did have a language requirement for graduation.) I dropped that class halfway through the semester. After taking several classes about Canada  I became interested in Quebec and in order to travel there, I decided I would have to learn French.

Now that the question of which language to study had been settled, I needed to figure out how I was going to accomplish this feat. Classes are behind me now that I have graduated. Tutors sound expensive and will require a rigorous commitment. So, how am I going to learn anything? Turns out there is another way.

Yesterday I got a package in the mail. And that package contained Rosetta Stone French Level 1.
Inside the Rosetta box came much more interesting stuff.
What you get is:
  • Language-learning Software
    • This is the crux of the program. It uses what are essentially flash cards with audio recordings to get you to learn the words.
  • Audio Companion CDs
    • These are supplemental to the software and work to ingrain what you learned in the software program. There are four CDs.
  • Microphone Headset
    • The software will occasionally ask for you to repeat words and phrases back to it. More on this later.
  • Keyboard Stickers
    • These go over your keyboard and will be very useful when you use special characters such as, "ç" or "ù."
  • User's Guide
    • This covers installing the program and takes you step by step of how the software works.
Ok, but how does this work? Let's see.
You are dropped right into the thick of it. You put your headset on and are spoken to in French for the whole lesson. You start with identifying basic grammar, words, and phrases. You learn what it is you are saying by identifying pictures. An example can be seen in the above picture, "La fille mange" appears to mean "The girls eats" and "La fille boit" appears to mean "The girl drinks." Now the program gives you a phrase and expects you to guess the right answer. you must choose the picture that fits "Le garçon mange." "Garçon" has previously been established to mean "boy" and you just determined that "mange" means "eat," so you just select the picture of the boy eating. Boom, you are learning French.

Of course there is more to it than just selecting pictures. One of the key aspects of the software is that you will occasionally have to speak to it and say phrases correctly.
The software will say a word or phrase and then prompt you to repeat it. You are supposed to say it correctly, before you move on. I was a bit skeptical of how well this worked. I tried to say the word correctly and moved on. Then I tried to mumble the word, that was also met with approval. Finally I tried saying something not at all correct, that time I was asked to say the phrase correctly. (A nice feature is you can have the software repeat itself if you are having trouble with the pronunciation.) You could skate by on this by simply mumbling along; however, why would you want to? The whole point of this is that you learn another language. If you mumble your way through it, you'll just suck at speaking the language of your choice.

There is more to this than just identifying words and speaking, you must also write.
Remember earlier when I mentioned you got keyboard stickers? This is what they are for. Now, theoretically you can get away with not applying them. As you can see, the French keyboard is provided for you on screen. The stickers will help though, I would recommend them.

One other aspect of the program are the audio CDs. They review all the words and phrases that you cover in the software program. Because they are CDs, you can rip them onto your MP3 player and learn on the go. Yes, it is a bit embarrassing to be in public talking to yourself, so you may want to do this in your car or someplace quiet. I found the CDs to be a great supplement to the software. I could go over and over things and feel like I am actually learning something.

That was my first lesson. Things went slow and were basic. I felt like I was slowly easing into a hot bath. I am sure things will progress and become more difficult. Hopefully, I stick with this and eventually learn another language. Stay tuned for further updates on how I progress.

For part two, click here.


  1. Now that I know Garcon mean boy, is it racisist to shout at Pierre Garcon "EASY BOY!" ?

  2. Yes. It is both racist and racisist to shout at Pierre Garçon "EASY BOY!" So, don't do that.

  3. Good for you Tyler! I took 4 years of French in high school, and surprisingly learned a lot. Once you master one Latin-based language, you can understand most of them. A` ta sante`!