Ok, I have 2 different languages that I want to crash course (learn quickly in a practical way) within the next week or so - is that even possible? Below I outline my reflections and plan to put French in the fast lane for a few days.

The situation

Here's the situation: I've got 3 days in the golden land of Paris a few days from now and then a month of student exchange in Singapore. So language learner me thinks it's a perfect opportunity to immerse/engage myself in French and Mandarin, respectively.

Should I have started to prepare a bit earlier? Probably, but life isn't a perfect science and I didn't have the time until now. One of the caveats about juggling multiple WIPs is that you have to be prepared to put certain WIPs on the backburner and then return them into the limelight when the time arises.

More on Mandarin in a later post, because for now the focus is French*.

*I have somewhat of a beginner's background in both languages (LINK). Having no understanding of a language and trying to learn enough in a week to get by isn't really realistic.

The French challenge

The scenario? A few days in Paris, and while I can always get away with playing the  'je ne parle pas français' card, I want to challenge myself. The criteria on which I judge myself will be: can I get away with talking to strangers, ordering food and paying for things in French, without having to switch to English?

My background in French in a nutshell is: I've taken a few classes on and off in French over the years, to the point that I have a good understanding of the basics: grammar, pronounciation, basic vocabulary. However, I haven't practiced or used French in a few years, so everything's rusty. More details on my background here.

So to really fire up my engines in a few days' time, I'll need to come up with a 'crash course' - including a plan during these 4-5 days to re-remember and revise my French, and hopefully enjoy the results in Paris.

My 1-week plan: quick guides, grammar, podcasts, speaking

So with only a few days to get my French up to a serviceable level, efficiency is of the utmost importance. This means that I need to find ways that provide the most practicality for my goal (getting by in France using French), free or low-cost, and pitched to an advanced beginner who has a good grasp of the fundamentals (which is how I'd honestly and humbly describe myself).

It's good to start with a brainstorm - how should I approach this given my reflections on my level and background in French?

First let's dive a bit more into my baseline of how I understand French. My opinion is that while I understand the fundamentals of how it works (basic grammar, verb conjugation, use of gendered nouns etc.), I don't necessarily remember all of these rules. My memory is even weaker when it comes to vocabulary and the pure knowledge of words, phrases and slang, which is the 'hard slog' part of language learning as it simply requires time and exposure.

On the other hand, because I've learnt it in the past and because I have a good foundation of how French works, I only need to see things or hear things once for it to jog my memory again. This speed of reactivation is the main benefit you enjoy when you've learnt something in the past, as compared to someone starting from scratch.

So to take advantage of this, it makes perfect sense to look up what I call 'quick guides' - high yield guides on common phrases to get around. It's even easier for a language I've learnt in the past because I don't need to spend extra time figuring out how to pronounce things or picking apart how the sentence structures work.

Secondly, even if I think I understand how French works I'll still need a quick revision of grammatical concepts, verb conjugations and other nerdy linguistics stuff. While I'll no doubt be rusty, I'm relying on that 'fast memory reactivation' concept I mentioned above to really kick in upon revision. I think this will be an important component of my crash course to balance out all of the revising words and phrases stuff. Addressing this should also be pretty easy - just like above, there should be lots of websites and resources where I can find grammatical concepts and verb conjugations for free.

Now I need to think of what I've learnt from past experiments with language immersion, which is that listening and conversing with native speakers is a whole different ball game to reading about language concepts online. It will be unrealistic to expect to understand every, or even most, French conversations at this point of my journey. But I can maximise what I can hear by undertaking some listening practice in this week of preparation.

The obvious option here is podcasts. At the moment in London I'm travelling a lot, meaning lots of time on the tube to plug my earphones in and get some Spotify podcasts going. The convenience factor should maximise how much time I can spend listening to them, and I know that for most common languages there's a substantial podcast market for listeners, a lot of it free.

As of today, which is the Monday of the week I'm due to go to Paris, I've already started exploring some podcasts before publishing this post. See the title image - there's an almost unlimited amount of podcasts out there. My strategy has been to dip my toe into different podcasts that might be pitched to my level, listent to an episode or 2 and then assess how useful it has been for my specific challenge. I'll report the results of this in Part 2.

Lastly, how to deal with the speaking? I learnt from my 2 weeks in Hong Kong that revising grammar, vocabulary and the like is not the same as putting it into practice, i.e. speaking it out loud. The former doesn't train your mouth muscles to pronounce things, it only trains your brain to hear it. So I'll not only have to revise phrases and words and vocabulary in my head but also out loud.

Conclusion and follow-up

Part 1 is about my reflections and crash course preparation for a week in France. I plan to make a Part 2 post in a week's time just before arriving in Paris, detailing what resources I used and what results I subjectively found. I'll then finish the thrilling trilogy with a Part 3 post after my time in France detailing my experiences in Paris and whether I managed to 'pass the test' - i.e. get by in Paris speaking French without resorting to English.

Stay tuned!

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