French Learning Challenge · Learning French · Uncategorized

French Learning Challenge; How Fluent Are You?


I’ve been reading Fluent in Three Months by Benny Lewis and I thought I’d share with you the points he makes about fluency and that our idea of what fluency is may be too demanding.

Speaking On All Topics With Ease?

So for example, people may have in mind that someone who is fluent will be able to speak on all topics; however as Lewis points out this is actually a completely unrealistic expectation. How many times have you been to your local garage when they’ve talked about the problem with your car and you’ve not been able to understand? Or a complex theological discussion? For me something as basic as football goes completely over my head. If we’re expecting to be able to achieve what we’re just not able to do in our mother tongue then expectations are way too high.

 Speaking Without Hesitations?

Lewis also makes the point that we think that in our second language we should be able to speak it without hesitations, but again this isn’t something we do in our mother tongue. How many times might you say ‘erm’ as you speak? Or forget a word, struggling to find what you mean even though it’s just ‘on the tip of my tongue’. The fact we have an expression for this is telling in itself.

Yet when we forget a word in French, and as a result find it hard to communicate, we put this down to our inadequacy in our chosen language. Most of the time it’s a word we do know, but our brief lack of recall convinces us in this situation that we don’t really know it.

Use Complex Vocabulary and Advanced Expressions

Lewis also makes the point that he, nor do many people, use complex vocabulary in their mother tongue, opting to communicate with the most frequently used words that we all use. In fact complex vocabulary can hinder rather than promote communication when those your talking to in your mother tongue may not know it.

Struggling To Understand

This is actually one I’ve added myself. My mother volunteers at the local food bank in France. We were having a conversation about fluency and becoming fluent in French and she brought this up as an example of her lack of fluency and Lewis’s points were brought to mind. There had been an occasion where one of the women who helped also received the food banks assistance and for her it meant the difference between keeping her head above water. On this occasion there had been a mistake and all the food, which was allocated through the computer, had been given away before she had received any.

My mum described it as her being unable to understand; that she knew it was to do with the the system, it had never happened before and she was struggling to know what had happened. But if the conversation was in English wouldn’t she have struggled too? Something which had never occurred before, so outside of her normal experience, had happened and it was to do with the computerised system that she had no knowledge of. In English she still would have struggled to catch up and understand.

Understanding Colloquialsims

If you speak with an American, and Australian, or someone from the other side of the country you live in accents and colloquialisms can suddenly make speaking your native tongue a challenge with another person. Is it really hard to think that the same thing would happen with our textbook French in relation to speaking it to a native speaker?


Lewis points out that the definition of fluency is being able to speak or write a specified foreign language with facility. However we can continue to raise the bar whilst not recognising we have realised a level of fluency. He refers to the CEF system as a better indicator of where your fluency level is in order to determine what your language learning goals are.

The CEF System – Common European Framework of Reference for Languages – uses standard terminology for specific language levels.

Level A Basic User

A1 Breakthrough Or Beginner

At these stage the language leaner can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type such as buying an everyday item in a shop. They can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. They can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

This to me is the basic level of French learnt at school up to year nine.

A2 – Way Stage Or Elementary
At this stage the learner can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). They can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. They can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

There seems little difference to me between A1 and A2 except for the speed at which these conversations are handled.

Level B Independent User

B1 – Threshold or Intermediate

The language leaner can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. They can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken. They can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest. They describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

B2 – Vantage or Upper Intermediate

They can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization. They can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. They can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

Level C Proficient User

C1 – Effective Operational Proficiency Or Advanced

They can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning. They can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. They can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. They can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

C2 – Mastery or Proficiency

They can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. They can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. They can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.

Looking at this what level are you? What will be your focus to push you to the next level? I know in my tutor sessions (my second was tonight) I’m able to haphazardly communicate on a variety of topics, so I think I’m at B1. However having a tutor has meant I’ve been provided with feedback as to what I can work on – swapping from tu to vous and making sure I keep the verb conjugations consistent.

I know myself that I also need to focus on reflexive and reciprocal verbs as this isn’t something that has come up in the French conversations that I’ve had prior to these sessions. Primarily because you don’t tend to have the conversations with shop assistants, waiters etc.

These are now my targets. I’d love to hear any of yours.

French Learning Challenge · Learning French

French Conversation Challenge; First Conversation Session


We had out first conversation session this evening and I have to say it’s well worth the money. Not only did it focus me in my learning, but it has my husband too. Le Marie has for years been telling me that he’d be ok as I’ve worked dilligently away learning French. Apparently, according to him, I’m the type to do ‘book learning’ but he knew ‘street French’.

But, like most men, my husband can be competitive even if it’s in a very none confrontational way. As the day drew nearer he was taking lots of walks on his own; ostensibly to free his bad back. Then I noticed, as he was heading out the door, his earplugs coming from his pocket and realised he was actually learning French.

I’ve been reading to my daughter from a French book for some time now. In the past she’s asked him to read it to her before bed (he does the bedtime stories) and he’d respond ‘that’s one of your mothers books, I’ll read you another one’. Suddenly though I’d hear him reading them downstairs.

I was still pleasantly surprised when Madame Professeure came tonight as he appeared to be able to communicate with her – yippee!

You see I’d read the blog of someone, unfortunately I can no longer find it, who had moved to France with her husband and children some years ago. She was fluent and taught French and Spanish in the UK, however he didn’t know any. As a result they had found it very difficult to make friends as, even though she could converse happily, he was at a loss and had found it very difficult to learn. Consequently when they’d invited people for a social gathering there was a reticence on the invitees part to develop the relationship.

I dread this happening to us, not so much for our sake but for our daughters. Although many people have said to me that having school aged children will automatically mean I can forge relationships from what I’ve read of French culture the school gates aren’t an automatic way to make friends as the French have a more reserved culture. I don’t know if this is true, but the lack of an ability to communicate would destroy what little chance we had.

I was actually really excited, as well as a little nervous, prior to the lesson and was on tenterhooks waiting for it to begin. The hour went by quickly and I could understand the vast majority of what was being said and managed to communicate what I was trying to with a, what I felt was, good amount of success. Obviously this was as a result of Madame Professuere‘s ability to deliver the conversation at the right pace and she was very good at knowing the right time to assist and advise.

We even have homework for next week! She has suggested we prepare to speak about the area we like in France – Normandy – so we all have something to talk about – and she is going to do so too. She has also given us a book to read; Les Froggies Vus Par Les Rosbifs by Stephen Clarke.

It’s funny how much I looked forward to this and how I enjoyed it. I dropped French in year nine at school (12-13 years) and here I am paying for lessons and loving it!

French Learning Challenge · Learning French

French Conversation Challenge; Ten Days In

imageI thought I’d give you a little update as to how I’m going with the challenge and whether I’m making any improvement.

Watching TV

So our to is totally broken 😟 – apparently you’re not meant to spray a load of window cleaner on a LCD screen after your child has furiously rubbed babybel wax onto it. Who knew? (Erm, lots of people 😖).

However the nice people from John Lewis have left the repair television with us whilst we think about ordering a new one. As we now have a provisional moving month for July – depending on our family business being complete (exciting) it seems sensible think about whether we get one here or wait until we move?

Anyway the loan to has given me an opportunity to carry on trying to improve my listening skills with old DVD box sets. I flipped back and forward between French subtitles and language dub to just the French language; still can’t decide which is better to help. You see if I’m not tired I’m able to understand about 1/2 what’s said – if I rewind and replay I understand far more. However, and I don’t know this is because I was watching it after nine, I watched an episode last night and could only understand about a 1/4 of what was being said.

I think I am starting to see an improvement though and I’m really going to concentrate on watching an episode a day and see where I’m at in a weeks time.

Slow News

I spoke about this app in my last post on the challenge. There is some free content on the site. As its spoken more slowly I understand the story the majority of the time and I’m amazed when it turns out I did ‘get it’ when I check with the audio track.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I wonder if the app nature means that I can plug my phone into the speakers of the car as I drive along and listen? This will be good when La Belle Fille isn’t with me so I’m not tied to childrens French CD’s.

Michel Thomas

As I told you in my last post I’ve started to write my own transcript of this to help me understand it better. I was thinking about how I find it difficult, but teaching my daughter French gave me an insight into this.

You see she can read a lot of books in English and is now quite comfortable with it. I’ve started to read French books for children who are learning to read and, even though she can read the first two sentences, she quickly gets me to start to take over. We end up with me reading it French and her telling me what the sentence means in English. I realised she does this as she’s used to working at a higher, more comfortable level in English and to ‘go back’ to struggling for not as much gain can be emotionally challenging.

I think that’s the same with learning this advanced series. I keep comparing it to the earlier ones and wonder why I find it difficult – it’s because it’s advance dummy! 😉

Anyway, writing the responses is working out better and this new approach has unblocked me. It’s especially good as, using the language function on the iPad, the spellchecker corrects and prompts me. This is great as I feel confident in writing more – a skill I haven’t done as much of if I’m honest (reading is ok, but as I’m going to need to communicate I’ve concentrated on this more).


As I’ve started to move onto to more advanced French it’s getting difficult to study in the car for obvious reasons. One thing that I can do though is use my Vocabulearn CD’s. These are just lists of words in English and French translations. They work well at this stage as they’re simple and a memory jog for language I’ve been exposed to, e.g. through reading, but may not have memorised yet. When I originally started to use the CD’s some five years ago when I bought them they were difficult to master as I didn’t have a French context for them, which you need for wordlists to attach them, but my wider study now does. Also words I don’t know I am now making educated guesses for by applying the rules I’ve learnt from Michel Thomas.


As I’ve started to speak more and more to my daughters in French it’s highlighting what I need to work on. For example with grammar points such as reflexive verbs I haven’t used these whilst speaking to others in French as I don’t tend to tell people in shops that I’m off to brush my teeth, obviously. So I now finding myself stuck the most on these areas.

On the other hand, for everyday things, I’m finding I can communicate most of time what I want to.

My first French session is Wednesday night. Three more sleeps!

French Learning Challenge · Learning French

French Conversation Challenge; Three Days In

As I said at the end of my last post on this subject my broken tv has meant that I’ve had to think laterally to develop my weakest area; listening in French. These are the things that I’ve been doing the last three days though.

Michel Thomas

I’ve reviewed him here, here and here so you’ll already know that I’m a fan of the Thomas. However this final CD is written and presented by someone else. I’ve only briefly touched on how this has been going as I’m going to review this course, the vocabulary one, once I’ve finished. However I’ve got to say that it’s so dense that I’m finding it hard to work with. In fact areas of it have been so difficult that I think it’s over exposed me – you know what it’s like when you study too long or too hard? Brain freeze? Well unfortunately this is what has happened with this course.

My time off the challenge due to various circumstances has enabled me to come back to the course a bit brighter, refreshed and with a new technique to approach it. One of the difficulties with the course is that when you get to an intermediate level of French like this it’s really difficult to be confident with what you’re learning with audio alone; you need the visual. Unfortunateley this is the one course where the accompanying booklet is not thorough so you don’t have the ability to double check you understand what they’re saying.

As a result I’ve actually resorted to, in effect, writing my own accompanying booklet to help me develop my understanding. This is actually a good thing because I’m processing the topic when writing the French too. I’ll share the pdf I’m making when I’ve finished the review.

Reading and Speaking Out Loud

I’m not only reading the Agatha Christie I have in French, but I’m reading French to my little girl too. She already knows how to read English quite well, so I’m starting to introduce her to the French using a ‘see and say’ technique.

This works for me in that I’m having to say the words out loud so I’m practising prononciation. As I’m reading the same book each time it’s getting easier and easier to say.

I’ve also been praying in French. This is adding to my prononciation, as I say the prayers out loud, and developing my knowledge of grammar as prayers tend to use future and past tense a lot.


There are two free ways I’ve found to develop my listening skills. The first you can access in either an app or on the web here; it’s called news in slow. It’s news, said slowly, in French. There, that can’t be clearer can it?☺️

The next is my secret, embarrassing way of learning French. I’ve managed to find Charmed in French for free on the net. I used to love Charmed; although it has to be said a lot of my love was for the house and Cole. I was in my twenties!

Anyway I’ve happily been trying to follow what’s being said in French without subtitles – which is hard anyway, but especially difficult with Charmed as

  1. the house distracts you (ooh, lovely lamp – what did she just say)
  2. the fench dubbed voices sound really deep to my ears and all the actrices sound similar and
  3. they talk about demons and, even being the raving catholic that I am, I’m not up on my magical French.

But I can gather enough of what they’re saying to keep me interested and that and the house keeps me going.

Am I too old to want to live in the Charmed house? Here, see for yourself…



French Learning Challenge · Learning French · Uncategorized

French Conversation Challenge; Reset

I’m having to reset my challenge. As my husband was away whilst I was doing it I imagethought it would have been an ideal opportunity to learn the language prior to my first meet-up. But I hadn’t counted on;

  • my baby teething and getting a cold at the same time as my four year old getting a cold. Cue lots of getting up in the middle of the night to the point that when they didn’t wake up I still did.
  • My hubby returning and then him keeping me awake.
  • Half term, so both my little ones were alone all the time and, as hubby works from home and needs quiet, constant trips to very loud indoor play centres 😱.

In in the end I was just too tired to think, let alone in French.

I couldn’t even go to the meet up as hubby was far too jet lagged to go or even look after the girls. I knew the idea of breaking free from the house was too good to be true 😉.

Anyway, after panicking over the referendum and coming up with the Irish Solution I’ve had to think how to get back on the horse as it were. So today I’ve booked some time with a French teacher I know who’s going to to give me some French conversation practise. It’s £25 an hour and we’re only going to do it every other week.

This means that I now have until next Thursday to practise. The only trouble is I’m going to find it difficult with my listening skills as our to just broke – ahhhhh!

I’ll keep you updated 🙂.

French Learning Challenge · Learning French

French Conversation Challenge; Day 7


So I’ve got back into my French today and I’m finding that I’m improving. I say this because my commitment to speaking French although, although not constantly carried out, has meant that more and more throughout the day I find myself thinking about how I’d say something in French and many little Frenchisms are slipping into my head as I think in English. It’s like I’m a slimmer Hercule Poirot 😀.


One of the things I’d said I would do is play my Callanetics DVD that I normally use – yes that 80s fitness craze is still going strong in some areas – in French. I did that for the first time today (avoiding exercise is the reason for the delay in this one 😉).

For any of you who remember Callanetics and who perhaps used the video at the time I can tell you the French dub of it fits so well! I was struck by how suited to French culture Callanetics actually is; with Callen’s focus on slow, graceful movements and the French actresses melodic voice.

I was able to hear so much of the French it was really pleasing. In the first instance words like corp and lentement jumping out at me, then my being able to unpick while sentences with these indicators as to meaning. I think I understood about 2/3rds of the DVD spoken words – although knowing it so well certainly helped with this.

The added bonus was it made the workout so much more interesting and, as any Callanetics devotee will tell you, this really is a bonus as the effectiveness of the exercises are equal to the boredom you feel from doing the same routine!


I am, like a lot of people, a little bit addicted to candy crush. So I’ve down loaded an app called Duolingo to make better use of my time 😀. To be honest swapping one for the other is no hardship as Duolingo is addictive too. I haven’t done it for a wee while, but previously when I’ve had a dull evening ahead of me I’ve happily spent a couple of hours working away at it. If you’re learning any language I’d really urge you to give it a tray.

Michel Thomas Vocabulary Course

Having spent a few days away from this I’ve got stuck back into this too. But I’ll update how this is going when I review the course as a whole (for other MT courses see my reviews).



French Learning Challenge · Learning French · Uncategorized

French Conversation Challenge; Days 4, 5 and 6

imageI’ve had a bad cold over the weekend and that, as well as my husband away and my baby daughter teething and with her cold also, has meant I haven’t done as much French as I’d like. I did practice some French listening on Saturday and Sunday along with doing some of my Michel Thomas CD’s, but only a little.

I think it’s important, even when you’ve set yourself a challenge like this, to make an honest assessment of when you’re avoiding doing the hard graft and when you’re doing so for a good reason. If I’d pushed myself not only would I perhaps not get physically better, but I’d reach a stage of ‘burn out’ quicker.

Studies have shown that 40 minutes concentrating on a topic at a time when you’re learning something is the ideal amount of time to be most efficient. After that a break is needed to recharge and let what you’ve learnt be subconsciously ingested. The equivilant of concentrating on something else when you have a problem and then, magically, coming up with a solution.

Now, back to work 😜.