Assimil French with Ease Progress

I’m now up to lesson 56 in Assimil’s French with Ease, and, having done about a week’s worth of the “active wave”, I wanted to comment on it.

As I’ve mentioned before, Assimil’s approach consists of a passive wave and an active wave. The passive wave consists of listening to the dialogue, reading over the transcripts and the translations, as well as the notes. The active wave, which starts when you reach lesson 50 in the passive wave, has you go back to lesson 1 and translate from English to French. Before doing so you’re supposed to listen to the lesson.

I’ve had no trouble at all in doing these, but I must say – I think the second wave needs to consist of more than just translating from English to French, and doing a few exercises like filling in the genders of nouns or putting the right ending on adjectives. For an “active wave”, it seems too cursory, a mere add-on to the passive wave rather than a stand-alone part of the course.

That’s not to say that Assimil is bad; on the contrary, I still love the course, and intend to keep using it as my primary material for French. However, I think I may end up altering their prescribed approach rather drastically. I may add all of the sentences to Anki to strengthen my vocabulary, as well as write them all out by hand (which I’m finding helps me remember things much easier). I may also start working through The Ultimate French Review and Practice, a book I received recently. In short, now that I’m in the “active phase” of Assimil, I think I need to dig into things a little more; my passive understanding of the French lessons I’ve done is excellent, but my production skills are more-or-less nonexistent, and I’m not sure Assimil’s official “active phase” approach is going to change that much.

Has anyone worked through an Assimil course exactly as they recommend? If you have, could you comment on the end results?

9 thoughts on “Assimil French with Ease Progress”

  1. Josh,
    The only Assimil course I’ve worked through all the way was Practical French. But since I was a) living in France and b) fairly experienced in the language, it’s hard to judge. At that, I don’t think the translation aspect of the active phase did much for me. The few times I tried consciously to drop in a phrase or expression I’d learned, it didn’t feel quite right because they were other people’s thoughts, not mine, and even if I used them in the right context they didn’t fit with what people expected me to say. All that said, Practical French was a lifesaver, teaching me a tremendous amount about what to listen for and getting me used to doing French in French. But the translation aspect of the active phrase went against the biggest benefits I saw with Assimil versus the standard textbook.

    I think the best thing to do with the active phase is to skip the translation bit and read the old passages aloud again, without reference to the English, and with an effort to feel what it’s like to be speaking French since this time you know enough about what you’re saying that you can focus on expressing yourself in French instead of on understanding what’s going on.

    The active phase of language learning is hard, and if I had a good idea how to teach it I’d be selling the latest “All you need to speak…” program instead of blogging about my own language learning. I think my own gripe with everything from LingQ to Assimil to the Colloquial Series to Anki and across the board (fine enough programs, all, for what they do) is that while you can pick up a lot through exposure and study, actively using a language to communicate your own thoughts requires actively using a language to communicate your own thoughts, and it’s hard to structure activities to accomplish that.

    With Breton, I started in the main Assimil book and kervarker.org, then stumbled upon the Initiation book for absolute beginners. I’m a long way from active phase use of any of them. But one thing I’ve found that helps is that whenever I stumble across a phrase that sounds to me like something someone I know would say, I seize upon it. Coming from Michigan, I’ve known a lot of people who complain about the weather. And so when I get a phrase like, “God it’s hot today,” I put serious effort into reading it with the same tone and manner as that of people I’ve known, almost like I’m telling a story about them and making fun of the way they’d exaggerate. Or if it’s a childish phrase, like the mountain is big, then I’ll say, “The mountain is big!” all wide-eyed. I don’t recommend doing this in public cafés, of course, but it’s a great way to make the language come alive in your mind as something you’ve lived. Contrariwise, I don’t think much of the translation bit because actively using a language doesn’t mean figuring out how to turn an English thought into a French one. It consists in having the French thought be your own.

  2. Hey Geoff,

    Are you sure you didn’t work through Using French? I only know of French with Ease and Using French. Title of the work aside, thanks for your input. I’ve done a few more “active” lessons, and I believe you’re right in that the translation aspect isn’t much help.

    I think my own gripe with everything from LingQ to Assimil to the Colloquial Series to Anki and across the board (fine enough programs, all, for what they do) is that while you can pick up a lot through exposure and study, actively using a language to communicate your own thoughts requires actively using a language to communicate your own thoughts, and it’s hard to structure activities to accomplish that.

    Amen to that! It’s really hard to go from “okay, I’m going to do my daily French / German / language X lesson today” to “alright, I’m going to go out and communicate in this language.” There are online programs to set up language exchanges, but it’s still not as easy as sitting down and opening up the grammar book; you are, after all, relying on the other person to show up for the chat / Skype call / etc.

    I’ve been trying to follow your lead on reading sentences with a realistic tone, rather than a bland, “here-I-go-again-repeating-this” voice, and I must say, it helps. When I read my Assimil dialogues out loud, I try to bring along emotions into it, to recreate the scene (at least as much as one can with 1 person with 1 voice!), and while my family members throw peculiar glances at me, it helps me get the sentences to stick in my head. It also makes the process al that more enjoyable.

    Lastly –

    Or if it’s a childish phrase, like the mountain is big, then I’ll say, “The mountain is big!” all wide-eyed. I don’t recommend doing this in public cafés, of course, but it’s a great way to make the language come alive in your mind as something you’ve lived.

    Chuckle. 🙂 Indeed, it’s unfortunate that most people don’t have a passion for languages. If they did, we could all walk around in public, saying things in foreign languages, and no one would see anything strange with it.

  3. Josh,
    You’re right about the book title (the subtitle on the old edition was “Le français en pratique” – I knew it had something to do with practice).

    I hope the reading with feeling continues to work well for you. I’ve found it really helps me get into the spirit of the language. Of course I worry about some of the cultural assumptions I’m picking up. Should I be concerned at how easily I can complain that the bread is old and that I wanted wine, not water, with dinner?

  4. Of course I worry about some of the cultural assumptions I’m picking up. Should I be concerned at how easily I can complain that the bread is old and that I wanted wine, not water, with dinner?

    I don’t think that’s something you should worry about. I mean, if it’s a genuine aspect of the culture, I don’t really see how learning it could harm your usage of the language.

  5. I’m 12 lessons into French with Ease, and while I’m not sure how I’ll proceed with the “active” phase, I think I’ll probably continue with how they recommend, but not pay too much attention. I think calling it an “active phase” is a misnomer. A language isn’t really active unless it’s coming out of you without much thought. My thought was upon completion of this, I’d look for a weekly French conversation partner, and read using flashcards (I learned and maintain my Spanish this way). But translating from English back to French is still probably a good exercise. As a native English speaker, you know there are countless ways to convey a single thought, all dependent upon the speaker, and local manners of speech. So it’s going to take a lot more than Assimil.

    I’m already breaking the rules, in that I’m using Mnemosyne to memorize words, phrases, and sentences now. And I listen and repeat each lesson for a half hour straight, and by the end, I can repeat the whole thing verbatum, which is at the least entertaining. I’ve never learned a language like this before, so I’m curious to see how this turns out by the end.

    I like the suggestion above of learning key and almost silly expressions that are used in abundance. I’ve come to think that really is the crux of language learning, just getting those in-between sounds down, i.e., “Like, you know,” and “Whatever,” and “Far out!” (I’m from Northern California) and then developing an ability to fill in the blanks with more meaningful content over time.

    1. How did it work out for you? I want to know how other native English speakers learned with this. I’m on my 16th lesson

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  7. Just for the record…. Assimil doesn’t have you translate from English to French in the active phase because it wants to get you used to first translting an English thought into a French one but it asks you to do it so that the French sentences are permanently etched into your mind so that you’ll be able to reproduce it without giving it a second thought when the time comes. That’s the benefit of translating back and forth between English and French. When we were small and listened to our parents speaking English we simply repeated what they said like parrots and as time progressed we started using it without any effort at all. We never ever told our parents….” Hey mom… dad… those are your thoughts… teach me English so that I can say things my own way”… That never happened. So, just do things the Assimil way just as you repeated what your parents said and you’ll master the language if you stay devoted to it for sure.

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