I cracked open my French vocabulary books after a much-too-long break from them, and rediscovered why I love learning new words. Vocabulaire expliqué du français; niveau intermédiaire begins with a chapter on prefixes and suffixes, which are mostly the same in English thanks to Latin. But there was one prefix I didn’t know in French: para- which means against.
Finally I understand why umbrella is parapluie in French (in Italian, it’s ombrello). It literally means against rain! Then parachute makes sense, which English borrowed directly from French. Against fall! And parasol – against sun! I love that learning more French helps me understand more English.
Atterrir makes more sense now as “to land.” Somehow I never noticed that the word terre was inside of that verb. Duh. Even avenue has a more distinct meaning than I thought. It was originally reserved for the streets that led directly to a castle, for example, and it’s called an avenue because that’s how people came (venu) to the castle. And why do we walk dans la rue, but sur la route? Because a rue has houses and buildings on both sides, so you are walking among them; whereas a route leads you through open land, with no obstructions on either side.
Sometimes I get so frustrated at the French language and all of its illogical rules and annoying borrowings from English (like every “French” word that ends in -ing!), but I get so excited when something becomes more clear. I usually have to know why something is a certain way in order to understand and remember it well, so if there’s no real reason – like why French borrowed le brushing to mean blowdry or le catch to mean fake wrestling – it drives me crazy. I need order and logic!
I’m only 50 pages into this book and I already feel like I’ve learned so much. I’ve actually been really lazy about studying French lately (or any language for that matter…) and I’m not sure why. At least I’ve been doing exercises online for the TCF (Test de Connaissance du Français) on their official site and on RFI’s site. I should be fluent in French by the time I have to take this test in order to immigrate to Quebec, but I just want to be prepared… even years in advance. And apparently the TCF for Quebec only lasts 45 minutes – it’s just 30 listening comprehension questions and 6 spoken expression questions! No grammar or reading comprehension, which is what I’m best at, of course.
I’ve also been attempting the Exercices PDF at Amélioration du français and trying to read more in French. I recently bought Hélène Berr’s diary (she’s being called the French Anne Frank) and even though I know it’s going to depress me, I’m really interested in reading about her life in Paris after the German occupation. Plus I already learned a new word just in the second sentence: giboulée, which sounds like part of a chicken, but it actually means a rain shower.
But because I’m not content with just studying one language, I’ve also been trying to memorize more irregular verbs in the simple past tense in German. I’m still teaching irregular verbs in English to my private student, and I’m beginning to see why it’s so difficult for her. Sometimes there are just no rules for the changes (why does sein become war; why does go become went??)
I always try to incorporate methods that I use for learning languages into my teaching. Obviously just studying grammar does not help you become fluent, or otherwise I’d be fluent in so many languages now. Having exposure to the real, authentic language is the only way to learn. Listening comprehension is so underestimated in language classes. I’ll never understand why teachers insist on speaking all in French when they are trying to teach their students to speak in English. How are you ever going to learn correct pronunciation, stress and intonation if you never hear the actual language?
Currently, the bulk of my assistantship job is helping Terminale students to pass their oral bac exam at the end of the year. The students will receive some sort of visual document that they’ve never seen before, have 10 minutes to prepare a speech about it (describe it and analyze it), and then they must talk for 10 minutes. It’s actually quite hard, especially if you don’t practice for it. Luckily, I found all of the documents used on the 2007 exam online, as well as a certain formula to follow when constructing the speech.
So my students have learned how to prepare for their exam, but they haven’t really learned what to say. Even after several years of English classes, their vocabulary and pronunciation need a ton of improvement. I feel like I need to teach them the basics of English, which they should have learned in middle school. But that’s not even what bothers me most about teaching Terminale students – it’s that I’m teaching them how to pass an exam, not how to speak real English. Sure, they’ll be able to explain a black & white document, but if they went to an English-speaking country tomorrow, could they survive? I highly doubt it.
P.S. I love that the Quebecois say dormir comme un ours instead of dormir comme un loir.
P.S.S. If you look at page 7 of the documents used on the 2007 exam, you’ll see an ad from the Michigan State Police. LOL