Katharine on listening in French

This makes perfect sense:

I’ve often wondered how the level of French mastery you need to make sense of oral French compares with that for other languages. French is my best language, but, when it comes to rapid speech, I often find it easier to follow oral German.

One area where things that sound the same in French–and complicate things for native and nonnative speakers alike–are verb endings. All of the following endings, for example, share the same “close e” sound: -er, -é, -ée, –ai, -ais, -ait, -aient. So the following forms of the verb “to walk” all sound the same:

marcher: infinitive of “walk”
marché: past participle of “walk”
marchée: feminine singular of the past participle of “walk”
marchai: first-person singular past historic of “walk”
marchais: first and second person singular imperfect indicative of “walk”
marchait: third person singular imperfect indicative of “walk”
marchaient: third person plural imperfect indicative of “walk”

Because of this, the French dictée is as much an exercise in grammar as it is in spelling.

I often drop in on Camille Chevalier’s French Today website. (I’ve also bought her first book).

I recall her saying that French parents “are always teaching their children grammar” or words to that effect.

I wonder if this is what she was talking about ?

btw, she has a fabulous post about teaching French to a woman with memory problems that I’ll link to as soon as I get to it. Very interesting.

And see:
Adventures in Listening Comprehension
Katharine on listening in French
Google Master on le dictée

Adventures in listening comprehension

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.

Ed says the rule he was taught for speaking French was: pronounce the first half of each word, then move on. 

That sounds about right to me.

The upshot is that an awful lot of words in spoken French sound exactly like other words in spoken French. 

Apparently this is a problem for French children, too, which French teachers address through the practice of dictée.

I recall someone telling me, years ago, that the reason schoolchildren in France write dictées every day is that it gives them practice using context to discern the meaning of words and phrases that sound exactly alike.

e.g. If you hear toi, has the speaker said toi, trois, or toit? A child writing a dictée has to figure it out.

Looking up web pages devoted to dictées today, however, I mostly see talk of improving one’s spelling and vocabulary.

Nevertheless, I assume the original explanation is right, seeing as how neither English- nor Spanish-speaking nations boast a two hundred-year tradition of dictating text to schoolchildren for transcription. (Maybe we should ?)

The reason we don’t have dictées in English and Spanish, I presume, is that most of the time, in English and Spanish, different words sound different. At least, I think they do.

Anyway, long story short, I’m not understanding a lot of spoken French. 

Neanmois, as our hostess said last night–and as I understood her to say, thanks to my 120-day streak on Duolingo and my 100-something-day streak on Lingvist–I’ve been able to pick up a few words of spoken French here and there.

Last night, for instance: Ça va bien ?

The instant I heard those words, I knew exactly what they meant !

Is it better ?

But then, after the initial thrill of comprehension, I was lost. 

Is it better ?

Is what better ?

My French, you mean ?

Is my French better ? 


Ça va bien Are you feeling better ? (I had been sick with some kind of deadly tour-bus recirculated-air virus when we arrived.)

Then there was the aforementioned neanmoins, which popped out of the word stream. I heard neanmois clear as a bell, no doubt because it was the first word in our hostess’s sentence.

Another satisfying moment: when we got here and were being instructed on the workings of the apartment we’re living in, I flat-out got the phrase “la poubelle.” 

La poubelle !

I knew at once, without further ado, that the owner was about to show me how to take out the trash. That moment of simple comprehension was highly satisfying, and I have Duolingo to thank for it.

Then tonight, in the restaurant, I picked up two repeated expressions from the table over by the wall:

Donald Trump !


Singapore !

And that was all I got. 

Donald Trump. Singapore.1

Ed tells me the French (all of the French?) are furious about tariffs and the proposed trade war.2

I’m completely agnostic on the subject of what French people should or should not feel re: tariffs, the proposed trade war, Donald Trump, and Singapore. I just wish I could eavesdrop in French.  

Bonus points, re: Trump:

6.11.2018 - Donald Trump - Valeurs Screenshot__10_41_PM

Idiot or genius: In the head of Donald Trump
His success, his bluffs, his excesses, his troubles

And here is Brigitte Macron, photographed standing in 4-inch heels. 

6.11.2018 - Brigitte Macron - Screenshot__10_53_PM

A couple of years ago, Ed, Chris, and I flew to Chicago for a wedding, where, the day before the ceremony, I bought a pair of 4-inch heels. I had never owned a pair of 4-inch heels in my life; I had never so much as tried on a pair of 4-inch heels. 

Turns out there is apparently a critical period for learning to stand and walk in 4-inch heels, and I had missed it by several decades. Chris said I looked like a baby giraffe.

I spent the wedding party in bare feet, and the next day we exchanged the shoes for a more manageable pair with 3-inch heels.

So, Brigitte Macron — hats off 

1. For anyone coming across this post down the line, Donald Trump is in Singapore today.  
2. “Proposed trade war” is ironic. I need an irony emoticon–I’ll have to search.  

And see:
Adventures in Listening Comprehension
Katharine on listening in French
Google Master on le dictée

Laurel, meet Yanny

In case you’re wondering, I heard “Laurel.”

Then I walked across the room and heard Yanny.

Which reminds me: I need to spend some time at Phonetique. I haven’t done so because, unfortunately, they’ve got their exercises set up wrong for implicit learning

Implicit learning (“information integration” learning) requires immediate feedback. You can’t do 10 items then find out which ones you got wrong. You have to do one at a time. 

Speaking of immediate feedback, this is the most important research on learning I’ve ever read.

Duolingo is very fun

Doug S recommended trying Duolingo, and I love it.

I don’t know whether it’s the best or the most efficient way to learn a foreign language. John McWhorter likes Glossika, which I assume means he likes Glossika better than Duolingo. It’s possible Duolingo involves too much translating from English to French and back again. I don’t know.

I wish I knew the literature on L2 learning.

In any event, I feel as if I’ve finally found an incontrovertible, absolute argument for the Wonders of Education Technology, a subject on which I have heretofore cast a No Vote: using a language app, you can hear what the words you’re learning sound like.

Plus the supposed convenience of education apps actually is convenient where Duolingo is concerned, and in a way that matters. I’ve never managed to stick with a MOOC, or watch more than one lecture from The Great Courses (which actually are great, as far as I can tell), but I’ve found it easy to return to Duolingo 25 days in a row. Duolingo is so compelling that it was one of my few daily habits that did not crash during the blackout.

Speaking of which, C. just talked to his co-teacher in Mt. Vernon … her electricity is off, and her brother, who works for Con Ed, says it will be days before it’s back on.


She has two young children.

Meanwhile, the lights just flickered off, then flickered back on.

The suspense is killing me.

And see:
The Westchester bomb cyclone and the achievement gap 

Doug S on Duolingo and YouTube

This is helpful:

FWIW, I’ve been working on my German again for some months now and have been pretty happy with Duolingo. It has the virtue of being free and has been reported to me by people who have used both as being about as good as Rosetta Stone.

Which is all very well for the usual sort of classroom language learning (with all its many limitations). For actual conversational language, I’ve found YouTube videos on subjects that I’m already interested in and uploaded by native speakers of the language I’m working on to be quite valuable. The cadences, slang, and vocabulary are similar to those I’ve run into on the streets in a way that more formal products (like newscasts and translated scholarly works) are not.

I’ve always wondered about Duolingo & haven’t quite had the wherewithal to form an opinion.

And I’d never thought of using YouTube videos!


How to hear

I’m trying to remember the line C. came up with, when he was little, re: Jimmy, his autistic brother.

It was something like “He can’t listen.”

That’s me with Spanish and French.

I can’t listen.

I’m hoping Gabriel Wyner can give me a shortcut. (Wish I could remember which box his book is stored in . . . . )

Many language textbooks begin with a list of hard-to-hear words—the rocks and locks you can expect to encounter along the way to fluency. With a handful of recordings of those words (freely accessible through Web sites such as Rhinospike.com and Forvo.com) and with testing software such as Anki (ankisrs.net), you can build powerful ear-training tools for yourself. These are tools that, after just a few hours of use, will make foreign words easier to hear and easier to remember, and they may give you the edge you need to finally learn the languages you’ve always wanted to learn.

How to Teach Old Ears New Tricks