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Get ready for beginners’ French
Get ready for beginners’ French

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2 The dimensions of language learning

If you open a French novel and examine its contents, you’ll observe that the whole text is made up of numerous chapters; each chapter contains many paragraphs; each paragraph is composed of several sentences. Within sentences are words, which can be broken down into syllables, which are each made of several letters. If instead of a novel you were examining a conversation in French, you would not break up the language into chapters and paragraphs, but you could consider the chunks of the language within each speaker’s turn, or between breaths. You wouldn’t see letters, but you would hear sounds.

Looking at the bigger picture with the French novel, you could consider it as one part of that author’s entire ouevre. Or you might see it as one book in a library that contains many novels alongside a wide variety of non-fiction (e.g. history, science, cookbooks and language textbooks). The books and the library are artefacts that form part of a community’s culture. That community is perhaps just one of many within a society and country. Likewise, the conversations people have when they interact reflect their social status, are influenced by their cultures and shape their identities.

As a language learner, you will acquire knowledge and skills that relate to many of these dimensions, as demonstrated in the next activity.

Activity 2 Beginner’s expectations

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

The list below shows several different stages and dimensions of learning French, from learning the basics to becoming a highly sophisticated user of French. Which of these would you expect to do in a beginners’ French course? Which best describe your ultimate aim, beyond your first course, as a learner of French, and why? Consider how this relates to your goals from Week 1. Reflect and make some notes in the box underneath.

  • Recognising and pronouncing the sounds of French which are new to you.
  • Recognising the accented characters of French and learning how to pronounce them.
  • Learning and understanding French words.
  • Learning French grammar to form sentences describing objects and situations, to ask questions, to express opinions, to talk about the past or the future, etc.
  • Understanding and creating texts/dialogues that tell a story, exchange information, argue a point, etc.
  • Reading different types of texts, listening to French in different contexts, watching films, reading or listening to news or taking part in conversations and understanding cultural references within them.
  • Interacting with people from French-speaking cultures (avoiding or correcting cultural assumptions), getting to know them, finding out about their background and identity, their cultural habits.
  • Translating sentences, texts, documents or discussions, taking cultural differences into account.
  • Developing learning skills (e.g. learning from mistakes), digital skills (e.g. using an online forum), academic skills (e.g. differentiating between different text types), professional skills (e.g. time management, planning and organisation) and/or other life skills (e.g. problem solving, resilience) through language studies.
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You may have considered some of the following questions during Activity 2. Try to keep the bits most relevant to you in mind – they will help you to reflect about your goals (and your progress towards them) as a learner of French.

Why are you learning French?

This could be for professional reasons (e.g. if you have new customers based in French-speaking parts of Switzerland), for family reasons (e.g. a relative is moving to France), for travel reasons (you are planning a trip to Quebec), for personal reasons (you need a new challenge), etc.

In what sort of context are you aiming to use your French?

This will be related to your answer to the previous question. You could anticipate having to use French in a business context (with your new customers), as part of daily life (e.g. shopping with your relatives in France), as a tourist (e.g. asking for directions or booking a hotel in Quebec), or just as part of your studies.

What sort of language will you be reading or listening to?

Will it be formal business French, informal conversations, short interactions with shop owners, watching French-speaking films and TV shows, reading news and magazines, chatting with fellow students in tutorials?

What sort of people are you aiming to interact with?

What part of the French-speaking world might they come from? How will you get to know them? Will they be your peers? Will you feel relaxed when you interact with them? How different do you think their culture(s) might be from yours?

What are your short- and long-term goals?

Are you aiming to learn the basics, so you can greet people, introduce yourself and survive as a tourist in a French-speaking part of the world? Or is your objective to be able to read and understand texts and documents and follow basic conversations in French? Perhaps you intend to learn French over a long period of time to become highly proficient? Whether you’re aiming for a few words and phrases, or complex grammar and idioms, these are all valid and valuable goals.

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Figure 5 Where will you go? (Clockwise from top left: Quebec, Canada; Paris, France; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Lausanne, Switzerland)