UPDATE 6/17/108 re: le dictée
It’s really hard to understand spoken French.
I don’t understand spoken Spanish at all well, either, but still. With Spanish, it seems like I could understand a person speaking Spanish if I put my mind to it. Which I intend to do the minute I get back to the U.S. All these years studying Spanish, off and on, and still not fluent — arrgghh.
French is a different kettle of fish.
Another fabulous resource : Paul Nation’s “Survival vocabulary” lists in 23 languages.
How much language do you need to learn to cope with being a foreign tourist?
There is good news here. With around 120 words and phrases (which would take a total of four hours of deliberate study to learn), you can deal with the most basic requirements. These basic requirements include meeting and greeting people, being polite (please, thank you), going shopping, ordering food, seeking directions, reading signs, finding somewhere to stay, talking about yourself, and controlling language input.
This survival vocabulary is available in over 20 different languages. It is very similar to the word and phrase lists that you find at the back of tourist guide books, except that this one has been well researched. You can find these lists at http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/staff/paul-nation.aspx. It is a good idea very early in your language study to make sure that you have covered all the survival vocabulary because this is made up of very useful language items.
What do you need to know to learn a foreign language? by Paul Nation