Le Vocabulaire de Pain : For French Learners

vocab francais de pain

In recent months, I find myself immersed in recipes and YouTube video tutorials about bread. And you might have heard that the French are serious about their bread. Perfect, right? I can browse recipes and still practice a bit. Since I am long overdue when it comes to forcing myself to commit the gender of these words to memory, I thought I’d take the time to look them up and create a new vocab list. By the way, we’re all going to ignore the fact that I’m still fine tuning my pronunciation of pain with my French teacher.

pumpernickel bread
a loaf of my pumpernickel

The good news about for any bread enthusiasts is that you will have already heard a good portion of these words. Many baking words are borrowed from French, of course. Baguette, levain, boule, you get the idea.

  • le pain : the bread
  • la levure :  the yeast
  • la farine : the flour
  • le sel : salt
  • le seigle : the rye
  • le blé (blé entier) : the wheat (whole wheat)
  • le grain : the grain
  • la graine : the seed
  • l’eau tiède : the lukewarm water
  • le levain : the wild yeast (sourdough)
  • le pain au levain : the sourdough bread
  • l’éponge : the sponge
  • pétrir : to knead
  • gonfler : to inflate (rise)
  • la miche (de pain) : the loaf
  • une miche campagnarde : a country loaf
  • une baguette : well, come on, do you really need a translation?!
  • la brioche : the brioche (a sweet bun)
  • une machine à pain : a bread machine (for you cheaters!….jk, someday I will own one, too!)

If anyone finds anything that needs to be corrected, I’m all ears.

Happy baking!

unbaked pretzels
my first homemade pretzel attempt
everything bagel and cup of coffee
home-baked everything bagels


Around the King Cake: Mardi Gras 2014

mardi gras king cake

A few weeks back, we invited some friends over to celebrate Mardi Gras in moderation. She spoke words that rang as music to my ears. She said, “I’m going to start looking up every holiday and emailing you about it, so that you’ll bake something for it.” I said I’d be glad to receive the emails! I didn’t get into, but this is something I basically do on my own, and I’d love a few more holidays/reasons to try something new.

Although none of us were Catholic and we don’t really observe Lent, we still took the opportunity to eat some sugar, eating some a Louisiana-style King Cake and sharing some brandy milk punch. For those who wanted something besides sugar and booze, we made some vegetarian red rice and beans. (The secret to vegetarian red beans is in the liquid smoke, by the way).

mardi gras king cake

I used a combination of recipes, straying a wee bit from the classic king cake recipe by using a cream cheese/cinnamon/pecan filling. Pecans have been on sale lately at our local grocery store, and the part of me still attached to the U.S. south cannot resist stocking up.

I almost forgot to add the bean into the cake before rolling up. Jordan ended up finding the bean, securing either luck or the responsibility to furnish the king cake next year, depending upon who you ask.

I’d never heard of milk punch before, but thought I’d give one try before judging. I read about it in John Besh’s My New Orleans Cookbook, which I’ve been obsessed with lately.


Brandy milk punch is a bit like orange julius, only instead of orange juice–brandy. 3 cups milk to 1 cup brandy, plus some vanilla, sugar, plus a handful of ice cubes and some sprinkles of nutmeg (more for your Dutch friends, I was told). Put it all into the blender. No, really. It’ll be nice and foamy.

The first round was met with skepticism. So I skimped a little on the brandy and the sugar, trying to assuage the health conscious among us. The second round, I no longer tried to pretend I knew better than the recipe and added a bit more sugar and a bit more, ahem, punch. Oh, yeah, and more nutmeg.

A five-person, two-drink party might not be the most typical way to celebrate Mardi Gras. But hey, I like to indulge, in moderation.

mardi gras king cake

If I were Catholic, I think I would give up any cafeteria fish sticks or fish patties for Lent. Eewww….

Did you do anything to celebrate Mardi Gras?

So Much French, So Little Time | Our French Learner’s Resource Guide

Why, yes, I do speak a bit.
Why, yes, I do speak a bit.

I’m so excited you’re learning French! Really, I mean it. The more people I know who speak it, the more opportunities I have to speak it, too!

This is my ultimate resource list of resources. It’s posted here as much for me as it is for others. I like having a nice list of [Internet and IRL] places or resources that have helped me in my quest to understand and properly use the language of Molière. All listed items are things I actually used and found especially helpful (though I’ve used many more along the way!) I’m always open to other suggestions!

For starters

Mango Languages: Note that you might already have free access through your local library! Mango languages teaches you basic conversations in French (also has a Canadian French option). There is also a little bit of context provided for the conservations in English.

DuoLingo is a very similar option to Mango Languages, but is free for everyone. You’ll be able to learn vocabulary, grammar, and even be quizzed into recalling it. If you choose, it will even evaluate your pronunciation. (I’m listed as LeMoine, feel free to add me!)

Coffeebreak French podcasts: I loved this when I started learning. It provides short, digestible key vocabulary in context. The basic lessons/podcasts are free, but longer lessons or written materials can be purchased. MOSTLY FREE

The Ikonet French Visual Dictionary: I used this often to practice up on vocab while actually seeing it.

the rest of l’histoire French/English vocabulary lists: Please let me know if you find these useful or if you have suggestions for new topics 🙂

Linguee is a great internet service that finds bilingual sites using the words you want to search so you can see them used in context.

Grammar exercises

  • About French: I think I’m developing a girl-crush on Laura K. Lawless.  I Google my French need, and there she is. In all seriousness, this has a number of level evaluations, grammar explanations, quizzes, vocab lists, and oral comprehension exercises. FREE
  • Bonjour de France: A free and varied website, offering a FLE resources, exercises, links to recommendations, and more much in an up-to-date, easy-on-the-eyes format, all the while placing skills within the appropriate level. FREE
  • Le Point du Fle: Similar amount of resources as About French in my opinion, but better grammar exercises. Recommended by one of my French instructors for practice before exams.  FREE
  • Languageguide.org: Great vocab lists and diagrams, with options of quizzes. Also has grammar section and small section of readings. FREE

Finding real humans

  • Conversation Exchange | When I first moved to Montreal, this website was a godsend. I can’t even count how many conversation meet ups that I had as a result of signing up. It’s a worldwide site, but some cities have much more active groups than others.
  • For those of you in Montreal, I highly recommend Friends of the Grande Bibliotheque’s Conversation Groups. There are beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels, and they’re so nice that they’ll let you take all three if you start at beginner. These are great not only for practicing language, but the instructors that I had did a great job of introducing Quebecois culture.
  • Meetup.com | Check the Meetup site for options in your city. Vancouver has weekly meet ups that I definitely plan to take advantage of.
  • Check out italki French instructors and/or people looking to exchange. For a review of italki, check out the Irish Polyglot’s review.

Access to authentic language material

  • Tou.tv | You’ll have to create an account to access many things, but it’s still free. Here you’ll be able to browse many Quebecois television programs. (Use the Hola browser plug-in and set it to Canada for better access).
  • NETFLIX | If you’ve got Netflix, take advantage of your subscription and make use of those foreign language sections.
  • Youtube.com | Whether it be wrong or right, you can find a lot of full-length French-language movies on Youtube. Search for film complet and see what you come up with.
  • SBS French film database | For oodles of free and legal-to-watch French-language films.
  • Newspapers: I read La Presse from Montreal at least once a week. The iPad application/version is amazing and once you download an issue, you’re free to browse it offline (it’s free!). I occasionally browse Le Monde from Paris as well.
  • The Internet Children’s Digital Library: Browse through 56 French-language children’s books for free whenever you want. No need to sign up.
  • The Boob Tube: If you’ve got a television and happen to be in Quebec, you’ve got some great options available on basic television.

Helpful/Fun blogs to follow

  • The French Truly Blog: This Seattle-based French language and culture instructor maintains a super cute, super fun blog. The first time I stumbled upon the blog, I found myself scribbling away notes of oodles of things I wanted to look up. Someday soon, I might just mosey south of the Canadian border to attend one of her French culture events.
  • Le blog du frenchteacher: French instructor posts about once a week or so, on a variety of topics. Articles are typically easy for beginner students. FREE
  • OffQc/Quebec French Guide: Blog focusing on Quebec French/slang. Provides transcriptions of Quebecois commercials, television clips, etc.
  • Bringing Up Baby Bilingual: Sarah does a nice job of showing how French is incorporated into her family’s everyday lives.
  • Les Boulets à Montréal: Never met these folks, but sure do find their blog to be witty.

Other people’s lists of French resources

No freakin’ way was I the first person to put up a list of French resources. Many librarians (wow, librarians are great people!) have created LibGuides (resource guides) and made them available online.

Here’s a French Libguide from Brown. Here’s another (better) one from the University of Newcastle.

How To Learn A Foreign Language While Teaching Your Own

I am lucky enough to–and/or naive enough to have moved to and now– live in a francophone  province before actually learning French. The thing is, as many immigrants find out….even with a job and new friends in a new country, it can be difficult to have frequent access to locals. At my job, however,

I am fortunate to have daily, hour-long conversations with francophone Quebecois.

It’s great, really. People are forced to talk with me, and unless we happen to be specifically teaching a lesson on small talk, we can skip the small talk. It’s awesome.

There’s only one problem: we have to speak in English the whole time.

Although I found a job that requires only English (knowing no French would still make it difficult when navigating office buildings, asking admin assistant for help, etc.), I intend to leave Québec being as close as possible to bilingue. Come hell or high water. Therefore,

even when speaking 99.99 percent English, I still make a point to improve my French.

And you can do the same. How is this possible? I’m glad you asked. Read on, friends, read on.

First, I think it is probably obvious, but I want to state that you never let your interest in the native language of your learners become the focus of the class. Sure, I could weasel out a few minutes of French before the class started if I wanted, but I don’t want to get my students into the habit of speaking with me in French and I want them to get their money’s worth. They are paying. I’m not. While I certainly do not object to enjoying your work and letting it enrich your life, I will draw the line at me using their time to explicitly teach me French. (Though I think some students are more amused at the idea of me trying to speak than they are at themselves learning English).

1. Decide How To Answer the Inevitable Question: Do You Speak French?

Why, yes, I do speak a bit.
Why, yes, I do speak a bit.

Of course learners are curious about this. I know that I was always oober curious to know more about my French instructors. As an instructor, you’re going to need to decide how to field questions about your level in other languages.

I have taken a couple approaches with my classes. The first session I taught, I followed some advice from a well-meaning individual and let a couple classes believe that I spoke little to no French so that they would not rely on direct translations in class. This was okay, although in both cases, the cat was let out of the bag when they overheard me in the elevator with someone who had addressed me in French or someone asked when we needed the conference room.

Since then, I’ve been more forthcoming, letting students know that I understand their struggles and am going through a similar process. This also allows me to more freely express interest in their culture and identify with students. To prevent falling back on asking for direct translations, I simply set a clear standard of “immersion” early on in the sessions. I vote for option two.

2. Pick up some cultural knowledge…

…which you then use to learn after class.

Even in my business-centered English courses, we take a bit of time to discuss personal interests, what students did on the weekends, etc. And even the most intrinsically-motivated, practical executive could tire of practicing the passive voice in relation to expense reports. So, take a break from your scheduled material when need be and ask, “When was your favorite movie made?” to practice passive voice. When a movie, singer, comedian, or celebrity that I don’t know is mentioned, I make a note. (And hells to the no, you aren’t going to recognize the name of every comedian from Quebec…) One student even loaned me a significant chunk of his DVD collection.

In my experience, once I let students know that I was also interested in learning their language and learning more about their culture, the recommendations, the anecdotes, and the tips just keep coming. This makes the conversation flow more easily, which is good for their learning, too, not just yours.

I scrawl down comments during class of things I want to YouTube, Netflix, Tou.tv (yes, I’m attempting to use that as a verb), or Wikipedia after class. This includes local recipes. It is important to note that the focus of the class needs to remain on the students and not devolve into a sort of tell-me-more-about-things-I-want-to-know-about session. Let learners express themselves. If they want to relate every grammar exercise to hockey (not my personal interest, but this is not completely unexpected here), let them.  Even hockey talk can turn into a recommendation of solid films like Maurice Richard and Les Boys.

I’ve literally spent tens, maybe even hundreds, of hours listening or reading French based off of the discussions I’ve had in my classes. Not all has been great, but most has been good, and all of it has been practice.

3. Notice repeated mistakes…

…and try to understand why your students are making them.

If you hear someone make a mistake in class, you should address it. Go ahead and do that. But if you’re a good teacher, you’ve probably already taken note of the most common mistakes for language learners. For example, it won’t take long before you catch a francophone learner saying, “I take a coffee and a muffin for breakfast,” or “Are you sure this is the good answer?”

There is a reason that those who speak the same first language make similar mistakes.

They are working with their frame of reference. Usually, you can bet that these reoccurring mistakes will teach you something important. So, if you, like I, are surrounded by people who speak the language you want to, take notes on their mistakes in English.

Yes, in French, you take (not have) your meals and answers can be good or bad (not right or wrong). You’ll also learn oodles about false cognates this way. If you’re teaching francophones, you’ll never forget that actuellement and actually are simply not the same thing.

4. Listen for expressions that don’t quite make sense…

…and back-translate them.

blind as a bat, aveugle comme une taupe

Sometimes expressions seem to come out of left-field. Wait, what?! Why is someone “putting a rabbit” on someone else when we were talking about making appointments? Why do you keep killing bears and selling them when we were talking about investments? 

Obviously, I ask for clarification in class, offer up the English expression when it’s apparent, and don’t use class time to ask much about the expression in French. But you can bet that I am quietly taking a note. I’ll translate it directly and enter it into one of my favorite websites, www.linguee.com. There, you can see these expressions used in context and find some approximate translations. Often, the direct translation simply doesn’t work in these cases.

Ahhh! Poser un lapin à quelqu’un ! Ahhh! Ne vends pas la peau d’ours avant de l’avoir tué.

5. Accept information/advice students provide…

…and use it!

mosaiculture woman bird
Mosaiculture exhibition recommended to me by a student

Like number one, learners are more than happy to help you out by giving you advice. I’ve been in Montréal a year and a half, and I know my neighborhood and the neighborhood I work in quite well. Beyond that, there’s still a lot of the city proper (not to mention the metropolitan area and province) left for me to explore. Sometimes learners bring me brochures about events they think I’d like or business cards for restaurants I should try. You bet I like a heads up on interesting events where I must force myself to speak with strangers get to push myself outside of my language comfort zone.

Sometimes learners even bring me informational booklets about their company history (maybe not the most riveting literature out there, but it comes in handy in class discussions). Occasionally, learners have brought in articles from newspapers or magazines they like (sometimes entire issues of old magazines) to give or recommend. Not everything peaks my interest, but hey, if it’s in French, I’ll read it. It also shows that you’re appreciative of the learner’s gesture. It’s nice to know they made they effort to bring something to you, simply because they thought you’d be interested.


See, it is possible to pick up some French while teaching strictly in English. Just be sure to put it into practice after class.

Do any other ESL teachers, or ex-ESL teachers, have any other tips on how to learn the local language while teaching in English? Have you tried any of the suggestions listed above? Which of them helps the most?

Winter Retreat

winter scene from window

Two weeks ago, I loved winter.  It was hard not to. We escaped the city on a wonderful weekend, a weekend filled with sunshine, mild temperatures (think 30-38 F), and a nice view across the lake. We were invited by some friends to join them for a winter retreat weekend about an hour north of Montreal. The food was great, I had a great time chatting with everyone, and the air was fresh. Naturally, I took oodles of photos, and I don’t think anyone was too annoyed with my manic clicking 😀

(A week and a half later, at 8 degrees, and stuck in a city which is dying to turn green soon, I’m a bit less keen on the idea of winter.  That’s why I need to post these happy photos to remind me that I don’t mind winter on occasion!)

winter scene from window

The chalet (I’d say cabin, but no one really says that here), was super kitsch, which is totally my style. I’m a 28-year-old with enough knickknacks to impress an 80-year-old woman, after all. All paintings, etc., seemed to be picked with care, but maybe a couple decades ago. Adorable. It was also located on a lake, which I never considered to be an advantage in the winter. I’d always thought of lakes as summer benefits, but I stand corrected. The lake serves as a really winter playground for skiers, snowshoers, snowmobilers, and even four-wheelers (which Canadians call quads, by the way…).





The food really was great. Each of us took a “shift” or two: one for cooking and one for clean-up. Everyone pulled out the big guns (I’m sure this is a U.S. expression that would have gotten me mocked, but since I’m writing on my own blog…) as far as the food was concerned. Friday night’s menu consisted of mango/cabbage/coconut/jalapeño salad with some stellar bean tacos. There was also a birthday cake! I attempted some snapshots, but was too wobbly and/or hungry to take great photos. 






We arrived in the dark that evening, but still managed to get outside. Truth be told, walking across a lake in the night without having seen it first was a little unsettling. I don’t know where some ice fisherman might have dug a hole! I let the others lead while trying to get used to my snowshoes. We snapped a few photos before coming back inside for the night.





The next morning was my favorite part of the weekend. I woke up first, mostly because I needed to prep my dough for the rolls and give it enough time to rise, but also because it was nice to feel like I had the whole downstairs to myself. Here was my morning view.



I maybe held a photo shoot for the pumpernickel that I brought along for the weekend. Jordan got to work on omelets.





After breakfast dishes were put away, everyone dispersed, snowshoeing, skiing, or walking either on the trails in the woods or around the lake. We loaned out our snowshoes for the first shift, so I put in some quality reading time. Reading time always passes more quickly when I’m not at my actual home. Does anyone else find reading more enjoyable with a scene change?

The afternoon was filled with some snowshoeing, lunching, and what I would call sledding (it was, however, referred to as Crazy Carpeting!). I much enjoyed the snowshoeing and the lunching parts. The sledding, on the other hand, was not my forte. I could not steer for my life and trying to avoid a telephone pole, while thrilling the first time, was not exactly my idea of relaxing. My crazy carpeting career was cut short.










Never been snowmobiling myself nor do I think I will make a point to, but I must admit that it looked like they were having fun.





I did enjoy the irony of walking up to a “Private Beach” sign in the winter.


I look a bit like a gomer, I am fully aware! I might have worn a layer or two too many. The pants weren’t exactly my size, but I was super thankful that our friend loaned them to me!

Being on and watching the lake was really interesting. There were always winter sports enthusiasts and ATVers weaving around. It was like an entire network of “roads” that I had never considered before. Like I said above, the benefits of living on a lake during the summer are understood (canoeing, kayaking, fishing, swimming, etc.) but the winter benefits had never crossed my mind.








Night two came quickly.  The meal was delicious this go ’round as well: a stuffed turkey, a vegetarian shepherd’s pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, veggie stuffing, and a few other sides that I’m forgetting at this point.

After supper, corks were popped, geography was discussed (holy conglomeration of geographers below!), and board games were weaselled out of (that might have been me :/). After hours of chatting, I had to give in and go to bed. Jordan was the only person who didn’t outlast me.


Sunday morning came with just as much sun as the day before. Things were slow going in the morning, but we were able to squeeze in one more use of the snowshoes. Must get your rental fee’s worth, right?

The lake was much quieter than Saturday afternoon, but came with a few gusts of wind.




I’m hoping to make one for escape-from-the-island adventure before all of the snow melts this season. That said, I wouldn’t complain a bit if I had to deal with a snowless sugar shack experience 😀

Has anyone else been out to enjoy the snow lately? Or are you too sick of it to think of enjoying it?

Things from the Internet {and some books!} : March Twenty-Fourteen

cappuccino chez boris

snow on small balcony

Snow truly is lovely. When you’re sitting inside a toasty little apartment and don’t have to step foot outside for 15 hours. Today’s the kind of day when I can’t resist a late afternoon coffee, a bit of internet browsing, and book reading. Roll these things into one and I simply can’t stop myself from sharing a bit of my latest favorites with you.

cappuccino chez boris


I know, I know, some of you really like the convenience of all-inclusive travel packages. I’ve never been a fan myself, but have never actually tried it. Now I have an article to reference when discussing them. This article will demonstrate what you could have probably already guessed: all-inclusive packages are bad for local businesses.

It can be frustrating fielding backhanded compliments like “Wow, you have traveled a lot…for an American” over and over. First of all, stop calling me an American, as though you don’t like on the same continent! Second, while I concede that this article does not provide per capita data, the U.S. is still third in number of overall trips abroad. That’s not a tiny amount of people. And if you’d like to pay for my sister and I to take a backpacking trip along the Silk Road, we would accept.

I’ve also got a couple happy books to recommend in this category.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story of adventures in Spain while chasing the history of what sounds like one delicious sheep’s cheese.


The second travel/connecting with your roots memoir that I took a liking to this month was Still Points North by Leigh Newman. I identified a bit with the father/daughter outdoor experiences growing up and enjoyed reading her descriptions of her time in the Alaskan wilderness.



Jordan and I have been working with Rick Bayless in the kitchen as of late. The Mexican Tortilla Soup, Veracruz fish, and variants of guacamole recipes have been spot on. Can’t wait for my layover in the Chicago airport on my trip home this summer! I will choose a flight with a couple more hours if it means transferring at O’Hare and stopping at Tortas Frontera.


I’ve also been a bit into Cajun recipes since Mardi Gras season and the True Detective season, which was set in the Louisiana Bayou, coincided. I’m still working on finding a way to vegetarianize the old classics without sacrificing too much authenticity, but really enjoyed reading this article about the regional chefs who are striving for a modern, yet local cuisine.

Also, this isn’t so much from the Internet as my cellular telephone, but I was super stoked–yes, I respected myself enough not to use that word out loud when speaking of it–to host a few of our friends over to share a Mardi Gras king cake and milk punch.

king cake louisiana style

Pop Culture

Jordan and I have spent the last two months with Robin Wright, Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, and Kevin Spacey.

I loved the musings related to True Detective that came from the Atlantic writers, as I often found myself mirroring their thoughts on portrayals of women in the series or the need for making the last quote of a season slightly more audible for the audience. I may have gotten a little into things here, making up a pot of veggie gumbo to commemorate the season finale.

As for House of Cards, the acting is superb, but I felt less thrilled about the second season. I miss Peter, what can I say? But yeah, I’ll still binge watch season three with the rest of you. Apparently, Chinese government officials love the series House of Cards, and some argue that this is because it simply portrays the types of government corruption they already believe of the U.S. Let’s hope people aren’t assuming all of us are some sort of mixture of Jersey Shore, Honey Boo Boo and House of Cards rolled into one.

In the News

I’m really hoping that a stop will be put to the plans for building a canal across Nicaragua. I find this terrifying and unnecessary. And I also feel pressure to visit Nicaragua soon!


Check out this video of a gibberish polyglot. She’s not saying a thing, but she is saying it so well that it becomes convincing.

Turns out that you’re not so smart in your own language. People tend to be more prone to emotional arguments in their native tongue, but remain more logical and rational in a second language. Only deal with your financial advisor in French, folks.

Ever wonder if learning another language is worth it, economically speaking, of course? This article focuses primarily on those living in the United States. Obviously, if you’re planning to move to a place where another language is the primary language, things are a bit different. I would venture to guess that speaking French has a much higher ROI (return on investment) in Canada, particularly Quebec, than in the States. Interesting read.


I gush over the street art in Puerto Rico. It’s outstanding, really. If street art is your thing, I recommend taking a few minutes to watch this time lapse video from the neighborhood La Perla, found in San Juan.


It’s lovely to live in, which always means it’s lovely to visit. I’m not alone in thinking it’s a nice [not to mention afforable–on the same continent for those in the U.S.!] place for your next family vacation!

Just because it’s lovely doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues to be resolved. This BBC article will briefly fill you in on the disbanding of the current national (provincial) legislature and a couple other key political issues facing the province.


I’d love to hear your thoughts/opinions on, well, any of these topics. Also, I’d love to know what you’ve been browsing on the Internet. Any suggestions?

Happy snowy reading!

Is A Goal Worth Setting, Even if You Don’t Reach It? | My French Language Learning Update

Bonjour à tous et à toutes !

Recently, I’ve received a lot questions about how my French is “coming along.” I thought since I’d been fielding these questions in my real life, it might be time to update the blog regarding my French progress.

The Goal

My goal was to meet the C1 level (or advanced level) by the end of 2013. I chose this goal because it is measurable. There is an actual test you can take, resulting in a certificate. With over two more years left in Montreal, this certificate would be a great help if I decided to apply for work elsewhere. Also, this is the level where the speaker actually has just as many comfortable moments as uncomfortable moments in the language (obviously, not exactly how the European Council phrases it).

This goal did not mean perfection, or necessarily an accepted, more-relaxed definition of fluency. This goal did not mean I’d have nothing left to learn or that I would never again use the futur simple in place of the futur anterieur or be confused in a conversation or have to ask someone to repeat something.

Steps to Reaching My Language Goal

At the end of February 2013, I received a certificate from the school I attended which had passed the B1 equivalent test, and was ready to continue at the B2 level. After this time, I no longer took formal classes.

Some of my classmates and me
Some of my classmates and me

Around this time, I was evaluated and joined the intermediate conversation course at the library. Because my instructor was willing to continue on for an extra session, my library course lasted until into the month of May. As always, I continued to meet with conversation partner whenever possible.

In June, I qualified for classes through my workplace. (These classes never happened due to schedule constraints, stipulations, or my specific needs during certain sessions). However, I was evaluated as being around a B2 level (or the equivalent).

Throughout Summer 2013, I continued meeting with conversation partners about 2 or 3 times per week.I was also able to use an online language training tool made available to instructors where I teach. To be sure, I did learn more grammar through this tool, though the listening exercises were less than helpful. (I suppose they couldn’t have hurt, though).

During the fall and into the beginning of winter, I picked the conversation class at the library back up, this time being evaluated into the advanced class. I continued my usual conversation partner meetings, but also started exchanging lessons with a French instructor who wanted to learn English. Perfect!

At the jazz festival with friends from the library conversation class
At the jazz festival with friends from the library conversation class

Did I meet my goal by the end of the year?!

No. Well, technically, I don’t know. I never took the test and I haven’t been orally evaluated in the last couple months.

I feel like I reached my goal, if not technically, at least in spirit. Could I have tried harder? Certainly. But did I try hard? Yes. I made a good-faith effort. Between all methods of learning, I practiced French at least 5 hours per week, but probably averaging around more like eight to nine.

That’s about 5OO hours of life during one year. A serious chunk of time.

I think it’s beaucoup…

As I said, I never took the formal exam. However, I have taken more than a few informal level check exams to see where I stand. Most of the time, I land in the advanced category, so C1ish. A couple times, I aced the entire thing. Other times, I missed enough to be classed as an upper intermediate. Also, I’d like to assure you that I don’t only take these test because I’m obsessed with my level. They are extremely helpful in pointing out key grammar points or vocab families that you could stand reviewing.

Why didn’t I end up taking the actual exam?

Timing, sort of. It wasn’t offered until March, not on December 31, to coincide with my goal. And by the time March came around…

But mostly, my goals changed. Those goal changed because my needs changed.

We recently found out that we’ll be leaving Montreal earlier than expected. (We’ll be moving this summer). I no longer felt the need to pass a test to get a certificate to prove it had been done. Once we were pretty sure we’d be moving, I could have dropped my French completely and ridden out the rest of my time here. But I haven’t.

I just couldn’t stop. Obviously, there’s still a need to order food, help strangers with directions on the street, etc. But beyond that, I have fun with it. It’s more about enjoying the language than meeting standards at this point. My focus is improving while doing the things I enjoy.

Going Forward

I have no plans to stop with French. Probably not ever.

Although my pace of study has slowed a bit since I gradually introduced Spanish-learning into my routine at the beginning of this year, I have continued exchanging lessons and conversations in French. I still follow my favorite Quebecois television programs and sneak in a movie when I have time. Depending upon how I’m feeling, I might be reading a young adult novel [check this one out] or a the daily newspaper in French. From time to time, when I’m reminded of a specific grammar structure, I’ll take a looksie and review a grammar point.

Obviously, as summer approaches, I’ll need to consider how to keep practicing my French without being in a Francophone environment. There aren’t too many francophones [actually I can venture to guess zero percent] in New Auburn, so the month of July might involve forcing my current conversation partners to Skype me. And trying to pronounce the French-named cities in Wisconsin correctly. Think Prairie du Chien, Flambeau, Eau Claire, Lac Courte Oreilles, etc.

Wisconsin in summertime
Wisconsin in summertime

Once our move has been completely realized, I plan on searching out new ways to interact with real people and continue practicing. Many of my current methods of language use can continue without any real changes. I can still watch movies, still read books, and stream the radio from anywhere [with internet] on the planet.

What do you think?

Does not taking the exam really matter? Should I feel any less proud of my efforts without knowing where they have taken me? Do you have any advice for how to continue practicing a language once leaving the place where you learned it?