Today marks the two week (halfway) point in my experiment to learn French. I’ve actually found the process to be surprisingly easy so far, despite the fact that I am still working full-time in English. Below is my schedule and some tips for my fellow language students and/or productivity enthusiasts.
(to the left: the famous “French castle” scene from Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail).
7:00 am: wake up and head to the gym
8:30 am: breakfast, shower, coffee and some review of French notes
9:30 am: French class
1:00 pm: lunch and creation of flashcards from the day’s notes
2:00 pm: nap
3:00 pm: start work (9am EST)
11:00 pm: misc (see below, in the Other Thoughts section)
12:30 am: flashcards + lights out
1:00 am: bed
This schedule gives me 7 hours of sleep (which I find to be plenty on a biphasic schedule, even though I used to need 8 1/2 before I switched). Sometimes I even wake up naturally (no alarm) an hour early. I review before class to find things I want to talk about or work on with the teacher and make flashcards after class while the information is still fresh. I generally just snack while I am working as needed in lieu of dinner. Finally, I do the flashcards for the “study drugs” experiment just before bed. My entire schedule is based upon circadian rhythms, working around the constraints of the school hours and working hours in the USA.
I want to reiterate that I am not trying to become fluent in 4 weeks. My goal is to be certified at a conversational level by the official test.
To this end, things have been going rather well. I started as an absolute beginner (A1) but skipped up a level today. There are 6 levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). I have been told by teachers that A1/A2 usually take about 4 weeks each and B1/B2 about 6-8 weeks each, though it varies per student. Typically, a French university will require certified level B1 or B2 of its foreign students. If I can pass the A2 exam by the end of the 4 weeks I would be very happy.
Knowing Spanish has been an incredible help. Just like in English, Spanish and French have a simple past and future tense that is easily constructed using two verbs:
* Past: I have … ==> [subject] [to have] [verb] …
* Future: I’m going to … ==> [subject] [to go] [verb] …
Even though we have this basic construction in English, it was the process of studying Spanish that made me understand how the pattern worked. As a result I was able to correctly use these forms in French as soon as I learned the verbs for “to have” and “to go.”
Two days ago I found one of the best assets I have yet found for learning any language. It is a large dictionary from a little bookshop in Carcassonne for children 8-14. It is 100% in French, but the language is simple and it is filled with colorful pictures and interesting history and mini-biographies of people. Looking up a word in it sometimes leads down a rather long rabbit-hole (where I need to look up a word in the definition to understand the first word), but it is quite all right. On the other hand, the biggest challenge so far has definitely been trying to make sure that I am pronouncing a new word right if there is no native speaker present. The French accent is still a bit tricky to read and I certainly don’t want to learn a word incorrectly!
Last night I watched the movie “Amelie” (a French movie that you cannot help but smile while watching). I also switched my Facebook account and computer language both into French for just a little more practice.
One of my teachers has told me that I should take it slower and a Polish friend called me “hyperactive” in my studies. I’m not sure if these were meant as a compliment, caution or mere observation. Frankly I have no desire to slow down. In fact, I wish I could move faster! There are so many interesting things to learn. The only sad part is that I can’t spend more of my time studying. If I could afford another 3-4 hours of study a day I am nearly certain that I could accomplish my goal, but as it stands I think the goal remains quite lofty. So… we shall see in 2 weeks!
The “misc” period is for researching or writing on this blog, going out with friends, etc. Sometimes if there is something interesting going on (like an amateur French circus in Montpellier last Tuesday) I’ll extend it into the work period (and catch up on the weekend). I try to be selective in my activities and surround myself with motivated students. Up to this point I have spoken about 35% French, 25% Spanish and 40% English when I went out. I have been limited in my ability to express myself so far but have often used Benny’s tricks (such as to say as much as I can of a sentence in French and fill in individual English words where needed). At this point my vocabulary has grown enough that today I flipped over to speaking 100% in French. Even when just shooting the breeze with a friend from class on the street, we speak nothing but French. There is so little time to learn in each day due to my work day, I have to make sure to take advantage of every moment!
On weekends I catch up on any work I may have missed by extending the “misc” period. I also choose one night to go out and not be too concerned with how efficient I am being with my time and just enjoy myself with my new friends. When I was at the USC Entrepreneur Club in college we had Kinkos founder Paul Orfalea come speak and one thing he said really stuck with me: he talked about the importance of taking time out of your day to be stupid (aka time for yourself and your own thoughts). I’ll come back to this topic of letting your brain wander and enjoy itself to improve creativity another time.
This is the 4th language I have studied (and the 4th such language school) so I have had plenty of opportunities to refine my schedule and learning process. It still isn’t perfect, but it is getting the job done.
Oh, and I recently switched back to a standing desk – being back in a chair was killing my back (and my posture)!