Responding to my last post, where I mentioned my love of reading in French, Ellen (A tiny house in Normandy) suggested that I might take this a bit further for anyone keen to do the same thing. Back living in Sydney, now, and without the full breadth of the French libraries, bookstores, supermarkets and vide-greniers that I have previously had at my disposal, my own reading choices are not really choices at all. I don't discriminate and happily take whatever is rotated through our one French shelf at the local library, be it fiction or non-fiction: biography, reference book, children's story, mystery etc.
Let me preface this post by pointing out that I have been studying the French language since the age of 12 (so a while!). Initially, it was probably the academic nature of the subject that drew me in: the deciphering, code breaking and working out how to put parts together to make a whole. Perhaps, not surprisingly, I was also fascinated by Maths and Music, with similar challenges. From the very beginning, the sounds of the French language were interesting, sometimes difficult, immensely pleasing to try and reproduce, but I'm not sure that communication was what motivated me. After all, I had never left Australia and the world was not connected like it is today.
A year after reading my first "Bonjour! Ca va?" scripted text book dialogues, my sisters and I accompanied my parents to Scotland for my father's sabbatical year at Edinburgh University. Squashed four abreast in the back seat of the family car, we subsequently travelled the continent in our mid-year break, and things started to really change. I encountered languages, food and customs that were unfamiliar to me and, even though we did not visit France on that trip, when a new school year recommenced, my desire to be able to communicate in a different language had been well and truly ignited. My older sister tells me that I used to refuse to speak with her if she didn't try and speak French with me. I'm sure that she is exaggerating, but what a pain I must have been if she's right! (NDLR No need to agree!)
Naturally enough, the resources at my disposition back then were extremely limited. I didn't have podcasts, 24-hour news services, Youtube and song clips with convenient translations to refine my aural skills, French speakers were thin on the ground in suburban Adelaide and the terraced houses of Morningside, and written material was confined to the inked sheets that my French teachers printed off for us and dusty editions of Hugo, Voltaire, Flaubert, Zola, Camus... when I hit University later on.
Today, what a different world.
What has not changed, though, is that learning requires commitment, patience, hard work, practice and determination. If you think that you will just pick things up by being exposed to the language, everyday or on the odd occasion, you will probably be disappointed.
But, let's go back to reading:
- Read everything that you can lay your hands on...bus tickets, concert programs, flyers, advertisements, invitations, bills, Facebook posts...
- When you read these familiar documents you know roughly what should be where, but pay attention and look up anything (vocab, verb conjugation, tense) that is unfamiliar to you. Keep a notebook on you or use the Notes function on your phone to record new words that interest you or that you want to look up later.
- Even as an adult, children's books are for you. Imagiers or Baby books with single words and pictures, hardcover books with one or two sentences and bright, simple pictures, familiar stories from your childhood (see Peter Pan and Le Club des Cinq (Famous Five) below). Read them aloud, read them often and if you have children, read them to your children.
- When you are cooking, look up your recipes on the Internet or spoil yourself with a print edition (see Mon cours de cuisine below).
- Subscribe to a French magazine for children. A brand new magazine is a treat to receive in the post every month or so. Select according to your level of language. Cultural affairs are much more accessible initially in this format than in a daily newspaper.
- Just as it is for young learners, it is easier to persist with something that interests you (see below Insectes, L'Australie, Dinosaures)
- After the heavily illustrated books, progress to children's novels and young adult fiction (see below Sheltie et le poney abandonné and Poisson d'Avril).
- Familiar mysteries and crime stories (such as the John Le Carré novel below).
- Best-sellers such as Harry Potter and Dan Brown's Da Vinci code
- Historical fiction (such as Régine Deforges, an interesting French author whose erotica writing was ahead of her times, but who is equally as well known for her trilogy, which begins with La bicyclette bleue and starts in 1939 in WW2 France.)
- For easy romances and quick reads take your time browsing and selecting from the Pocket Books selection.
- Try simpler classics such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince
- Get a news feed from France Info to your phone, consult it without moderation and keep abreast of the news of the world at the same time as working on your French.
- Consult the books and ebooks at Decitre, fnac and make your choice.
- Finally, read as often as you can and enjoy!
Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments box below.