Language Learning Update: French and German

I’ve not posted lately, so I figured I’d write a short entry to document where I’m at learning wise:


I’m now on lesson 88 of Assimil’s New French with Ease. If you remember my last post about this, it’s clear I’m not doing the recommended one lesson per day. I know, I know – I’m supposed to. But in these later lessons, I’ve found that I prefer to spend more time with them, as what’s being covered in lesson 85, for example, is much more complicated than what was covered in lesson 30. I’ve also been going back and doing the active wave, mostly as the program recommends.

For the active wave, I first listen to the audio two or three times. I then read the French text as I listen to it again. Then I cover up the French and try to translate from the English back to the target language. When I stumble during this step (and I almost always do), I refer to the text again. I then recite the sentence without looking at the text. After I’ve done this with all of the lesson, I sometimes will translate from English to French again, but instead of speaking it, I’ll write it out and then check my translation against the French in the book.

This obviously takes a bit longer than what Assimil recommends for the active wave, but I’ve found that by really engaging myself with the material, rather than just doing a cursory run-by, I learn far more. I noted that in lesson 50, when the course instructed me to begin the active wave, it was stated that the active wave would “only add about 5 minutes to my daily studying.” My way takes more like 15 or 20, but, like I said – it seems more effective.

When I’m done with French with Ease, I have Using French on my shelf, waiting for me. Once I finish with French with Ease, though, I’m also going to start systematically enlarging my vocabulary. Perhaps I’ll check out Using French Vocabulary, the sister title to Using German Vocabulary, which I’ve been using for a while now.


There’s not a great deal to report in regards to my German learning. I’m still plugging away at Using German Vocabulary. I’m still using Anki, but I’ve also started experimenting with Iversen’s word list method. When I first read about the method in the How To Learn Any Language forums, I thought it sounded pretty awful. But after trying it, I must say – it seems to work. I’ve talked with Iversen via the forum, and I think he’s right – waiting until you “know” 5-7 words before you write the translations seems more effective than learning 1 word, writing it, learning another word, etc. I may start learning words initially with the word list method to get them into my memory, and then move them over to Anki.

I’ve largely seen success in adding word pairs to Anki, minus a few cards here and there, most of which I get wrong because they’re so similar. I’ve added context to troublesome cards, which amounts to maybe 15 or 20 cards. Considering I’ve added close to 1500 words from Using German Vocabulary, 15 or 20 troublemakers doesn’t seem too bad. 🙂

5 thoughts on “Language Learning Update: French and German”

  1. Thanks for the pointer to Iverson. I’d read about using lists of 5-7 words in the past, I think in conjunction with speed learning or suggestopedia or some such thing. But I’d always thought of it as an upper bound for learning items together since learning them one at a time would take too long. I hadn’t thought about the utility of forcing yourself to keep multiple items in memory for processing and learning. I’ve given this a try and have found, too, that it works. Granted, if I can come across a decent method for the language I’m learning, that’s where I’d start. But for adding vocabulary or getting down basics when the materials for your language aren’t very good, this looks really helpful.

  2. Are you finding the French/German language combination to be helpful? As I do not have any knowledge of either language, are there any similarities or big differences between the two? Having more difficulty with one of the languages in particular? I have a couple of friends who loved their German studies, but said it was quite a bit more difficult than French — what are your thoughts?

    Also, I think if you have a good enough understanding of one language, you should use that one as a medium to teaching yourself the other. For example, my native language is English, but I prefer to use Spanish in order to learn Portuguese, that way I am learning more Spanish while showing significant improvement in my Portuguese.

  3. Geoff: Yeah, certainly, I don’t start a language by doing hundreds or thousands of words via the list method. (Interestingly enough, the Iversen fellow at *does* start his lists quite early on in a new language.) Once you’ve got a decent base though, it seems to really let you fly through learning words. Thinking about it just now, I still remember a great deal of the words I learned a few days ago via doing lists, and I’ve not reviewed a single time.

    Jeff: It’s hard for me to say if the combination is helpful, as I’ve been learning German so long, there’s not a great deal in it, grammar wise, that I’m not at least familiar with. So I’m not bouncing ideas from each language back and forth. One thing from German has been helpful, though, in my work with French: the knowledge I have of reflexive verbs and how they work. They’re much more common in both German and French than in English, so being used to them via German has been helpful with the French.

    In regards to which is more difficult, it depends on what you’re looking at. Grammar wise, I’d say German is more difficult; it has quite a few declensions, which French does not have at all. Plural forms in German are tricky as well, especially in the beginning stages; French plurals are very similar to English. The French verb conjugations seem to have their share of trickiness, though.

    On the other hand, German is quite easy to spell, as the vast majority of words are spelled just as they sound. French is quite another beast. Silent letters abound, especially on the ends of words. There are some vowel combinations that I have trouble pronouncing as well.

    And, I agree – learning a third (or Nth) language via a foreign language you know reasonably well is a good thing. As soon as I finish with French with Ease, I think I’m going to begin Russisch ohne Mühe, the German base version of Assimil’s older Russian course. 🙂

  4. Are you learning two languages at the same time? And what would that be for? I mean, do you need that for your work or is it a hobby? I find that once you use some language a lot, the others tend to become rusty. I was brought up first in German, then in French again, and then I had to learn English intensively and I started to work as a translator in Spain so that I had to learn Spanish….. That is about half the story.

    I mean to say that it does not seem to pay to learn many languages if it is not for some specific purpose, since they have a way of canceling each other out. I saw that this is called “language attrition”.

  5. Cantueso: No, I’m not learning two languages at the same time; I’ve actually thrown another one onto the heap, Russian. It’s a hobby, and I don’t particularly need to learn any of them. I’ve found that with some common sense in regards to my time – namely, try to get in a bit of each language every day – I’m able to make progress in all three without backsliding on any of them.

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