Complaining about learning a language in today’s world almost makes me feel guilty. Compared to 50 years ago, we are absolutely flooded with language learning resources left, right and centre. Obviously this is thanks to technology. I can’t count the number of times we’ve been told by a lecturer or tutor about “how lucky” we are to have so much at our fingertips, when learning a language in the past was a nasty, go-find-an-actual-dictionary endeavour. In their defence, they’re completely right, we have it very easy. Need to know a translation? Get out Google Translate on your phone. Need clarification on a grammar point? Just throw it into a search engine and hey presto.
There are copious amounts of resources, websites and blogs out there to help those learning languages now and below are just a few that I’ve found both helpful, although not without their faults, so fait attention if you choose to use them.
When I first discovered this site/blog/vlog I thought it was amazing. It’s a blog/vlog run by 2 fun, American students who learned French at college and share their tips on how to enhance your learning and what you need to know if you go to France. They seemed to be giving such good, hands-on, practical advice, and I was absorbing everything with enthusiasm. This was about a month before I had planned to go to France to work for the summer so I thought knowing this great, first-hand knowledge would be so useful.
Although their knowledge is definitely helpful for some people, I felt their advice was sometimes too specific. For example, they published a vlog on how to “sound cool” to a French person. They explained that a slang language in France called “verlan” is used amongst the younger generation in France and if you want to have a colloquial conversation with a French person, it’s essential to know this extra little language.
Off I went to France and tried to speak a few words of Verlan that I thought would impress all of the French people I would talk to, only to be looked at strangely. I eventually asked someone what the real deal was with this slang I was told only very urban, inner-city inhabitants use this slang and it’s almost offensive to use it in any other part of France.
So, although I really enjoyed listening to these guys and a lot of there stuff is really helpful, I found that some of the content on Shut Up and Go’s site/vlog was a bit inaccurate or maybe aimed too specifically at one part of France.
Duolingo seems like an obvious one but it’s hard to deny how good it is. It was my saviour during the Leaving Cert, teaching me loads of new vocab I would never have picked up in class, as well as helping me practise little grammar points in a fun and easy way. There’s something so oddly enjoyable about learning from a cartoon owl and you can practise at any time, I like to pass my bus journies doing it, for example.
However, Duolingo is created by the people, for the people. Which can be a good thing I guess but this leaves room for errors, which makes it really confusing and difficult for new learners. For example, I started doing Irish lessons on it, and for a couple of the tests, I put in answers that I knew were grammatically correct, but because the exercise had been created by someone who maybe didn’t know the all different dialects of Irish, they didn’t include my region’s version of what the answer could be.
This is very a minor issue though, go download it ASAP, it’s unreal.
I don’t know, maybe my love for cartoon animals is the real reason I’m doing languages but the friendly armadillo helping you through each exercise on this site definitely makes a difference. The site goes through and explains all the basics of the French language, including a little quiz for most of the topics at the end, which you might think you don’t need to bother with but when you really think about it, if I asked you to give me an example of a relative pronoun, would you be able to? Maybe, but my point is, with languages there’s a load of hard, grammatical jargon for basic stuff like that that needs to be properly explained for you to really progress with the harder stuff later on. So this website is good for building a foundation for your language learning. Also who doesn’t love armadillos.
Lang-8 is all about giving and taking, so you can feel good about yourself while learning languages, it’s a win-win situation (unless you’re mean and don’t adhere to the “giving” part of the agreement). Basically, you write a piece in your chosen language and someone native comes along and corrects it for you. You can then correct someone else’s work and there’s your good deed done for the day, you’ve helped someone progress in English and you just improved your chosen language, yay.
The only problem I’ve experienced with Lang-8 is it’s sometimes unreliable. Depending on the length and subject of the piece you write, people might not want to correct it. I’m a culprit of doing this for other people’s work. If I have to correct 2 pages of work entitled “My letter to the local government”, I’ll probably just skip it.
So there you have it, my secret recipe to learning French online.
Lots of love,