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Eleven Ways To Learn French Faster from A Dutch Language Learning Genius

by Mark Benninga

Mark Benninga can speak 10 languages and read 20. Read his advice for learning French below.

I think I am a language genius.  I am able to pick up new languages at an extremely fast rate.

I can also imitate accents, pitch and intonation on a level ordinary people rarely attain.  I can read 20 languages and I am solidly conversational in over 10 languages.

I’m Not Bragging

I don’t say this in order to brag about it because I believe that any gift people possess is a gift God imparted.   But as the American sports figure Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it!”

So how can I help you, a typical American without ANY knowledge of a foreign language?

Here’s my list of tips that will help you learn French faster and have more fun.

You may discover that you have talents you never dreamed of!

1.  Start with Simple Examples . . .

Examples:

I am Mark Benninga: Je suis Mark Benninga.

Obama with French President Sarkozy.

You are Barack Obama: Vous êtes Barack Obama.

She is Hillary Clinton: Elle est Hillary Clinton.

We are people: Nous sommes des gens.

You are famous people: Vous êtes des gens célèbres.

They are  nice: Ils sont gentils.

 . . . Then Simplify Even More

If that still sounds too complicated for you, perhaps you would like to press the “simplify” button.  Here’s what happens when we simplify these phrases again.

 

I: je (moi)

you: vous (tu for children and friends)

he: il

she: elle

we: nous

you plural: vous

they: ils

 

followed by:

I am: je suis

you are: tu es

he is: il est

she is: elle est

we are: nous sommes

you are: vous êtes

they are: ils sont

etc.

Do you see patterns starting to emerge?

 

2. Think Visually When You Are Learning French

In the past language books contained sentences, phrases and words, with a minimum of visual aids. This is not good.  Most people think visually, that is: they are better at remembering things they see than at words they hear. This will be the more so for the average American who has not been much exposed to foreign language training.

Make the World Your Visual Aid

The way to do that is to make everything that you see be your visual aid.

So, while seeing the sentence: I am Mark Benninga, at the same time you will visualize my picture + the translation of the sentence in French.

When you see Obama, think: “Vous êtes Barack Obama.

While translating the phrase: You are Barack Obama, you will see the a picture of the 44’th president of the United States before your eyes.

 

This is very important, because it will help you remember your newly acquired foreign language skill  in a  visual context.  Most people have a much better developed visual memory than auditory memory.

 

Let’s illustrate this with some more examples:

 

You see a house, see and say the French word for house maison.

When se see the area in front of the house see the French word:

devant (before),

Then you can put it together and say.

devant la maison : (in front of the house). The English translation is added for comprehension’s sake.

Next you see the house again, but now from the backside.

You read the word: derrière (behind) followed by the phrase:

derrière la maison (behind the house).

The same can be done for many other prepositions, such as:

dans la maison:  in the house

sur la maison: on top of the house

A coté de LA MAISON: next to the house, etc.

It is of extreme importance that you can see what you are learning, so that you will be able to learn words in a  visual context imitating a normal  everyday situation.

3.  Your Training Should Use Good Audio Recordings

Seeing words in context is fine, but it’s not enough! You should also HEAR the words in order to know their pronunciation. Moreover, hearing and seeing at the same time considerably facilitates the learning and  remembering process in your brain. It is easier, for example, to remember that

Window is fenêtre  in French, if you have not just SEEN the word fenêtre, but have also HEARD it.

Therefore the training should be auditive besides being visual.

Here we immediately bump into  a problem as you will notice that the pronunciation of the word is not  in line with the way you would expect it to be pronounced on the basis of how it is written.

For example fenêtre (window) is not pronounced “fenetre” or something, but fe net tra (with the additional difficulty that the e in the syllable net is drawn out rendering the phonetical spelling more difficult)

Plancher (floor) is not pronounced like voucher, but rather like buffet  (er= ai).

For this reason it is highly recommended that any language course you start doing begin with some specific pronunciation exercises. That will help you to master the main pronunciation patterns of written words in the new language before taking up the actual  learning of the language.

Here too, in my view, language training should be practical:  that is, pronunciation exercises should be on simple, practical words for the sake of already acquiring some nice, useful vocabulary while training your pronunciation instead of going over long  lists of academical words without any particular use for your situation as a beginning student.

So rather learn the pronunciation of words like toit (roof), jardin (garden), voiture (car) instead of learning words like vraisemblable (probable) or féérique (fairytalelike).

4.  You Should Be Actively Involved in Your Training

Learning a new language by making use of visual and auditive means is wonderful, but not enough. You should be forced to play an active part in the learning process yourself!

This can be done in various ways.

You should repeat the words you hear.  Let’s go back to the beginning.

You hear: Vous êtes Barack Obama (You are Barack Obama.) and you immediately repeat what you hear, while at the same time trying to pronounce it as correctly as possible, including using the right pitch and intonation.

Repeating words is not only a useful tool to  master correct pronunciation. It is also an additional aid to remember them! So here again: it is a two-edged thing (comparable to the use of visual and auditive aids mentioned earlier in this article).

5.  Your Training Should Be Subject Oriented

Ever seen old French books from, let’s say. a hundred years ago? They went like this:

Publius sent his servant to fetch his spear.

The atrium was beautifully decorated by the maid-servant.

Caesar decided to declare war on what is today France.

Beautiful sentences, aren’t they? But what is their use in language acquisition? Hardly any, except for maybe a few language freaks (like me).

I would rather suggest a more subject- oriented way of training, for example on the subject: house. .

I could imagine the following way of doing so:

house: maison

door: porte

window: fenêtre

wall: mur

kitchen:  cuisine

living-room: salle de séjour, living

stairs: escalier,  etc.

At a slightly more advanced level this can be extended to small useful sentences, such as:

Le living est derrière la cuisine : The living-room is behind the kitchen.

Or: La cuisine contient deux fenêtres, l’une rouge et l’autre blanche: The kitchen contains two windows, one red and the other  white.

By covering one subject at at time and especially by making use of so-called variation drills the course will make learning easy and practical besides facilitating an almost automatic acquisition of (good) vocabulary.

6.  Your Training Should Use Variation Drills

For example:

La chaise dans le coin est bleue (the chair in the corner is blue)

vert (green)

The pupil now says: La chaise dans le coin est verte (the chair in the corner is green)

Notice also verte in stead of vert. . This is the feminine form of the word green, the use of which is obligatory here because chaise (chair) is feminin in French. By doing this type of exercises your grammar skills will improve simultaneously.

The subject maison (house) gives scope for an almost  endless amount of  practical training situations.

for example:

Je suis assis dans la chaise rouge devant la cheminée: I am sitting in the red chair  in front of the fireplace.

(violet)

Je suis assis dans la chaise violette devant la cheminée (I am sitting in the violet chair…)

(sur  le canapé)

Je suis assis sur le canapé devant …

(I am sitting on the couch in front of…)

(être debout)

Je suis debout devant la cheminée (I am standing in front of the fireplace)…, etc.

More examples:

 

When you see a street think: I walk down the street (Je marche dans la rue.)  Click on the image twice for a bigger view.

I walk in the street (je marche  dans la rue) (courir)

Je cours dans la rue (I run in the street) (ville)

Je cours en ville ( I run in town) (toi)

Tu cours en ville (you run in town) lui

Il court en ville (he runs in town) nous

Nous courons en ville (we run in town) vous

Vous courez en ville (you plural run in town) eux

Ils courent en ville (they run in town) sur la plage

Ils courent sur la plage (they run on the beach) dans l’eau de la mer

Ils courent dans l’eau de la mer (they run in the water of the sea), etc.

From these examples it may be gathered that different types of training can be practiced. This leads to the following conclusion(s):

7.  Your Training Should Expand Your Vocabulary in an Easy Attractive Way

Examples:

La belle fille a des cheveux longs: the beautiful girl has long hair (beaux yeux)

La belle fille a de beaux yeux: the beautiful girl has lovely eyes. (longues jambes)

La belle fille a de longues jambes (the beautiful girl has long legs), etc.

Here different physical, psychological and other features of “the beautiful girl” may be evaluated in the foreign language, while at the same time practicing acquired skills and expanding into new vocabulary as well as learning new grammar features.

With the aid of this type of easy drills the student will be able to acquire a relatively large, practical vocabulary in a very short time.

But maybe the speed will be too great for some students.

Therefore:

8.  You Should Always Have The Opportunity to do Exercises Again

When you see the Eiffel tower think: “J’aime la Tour d’Eiffel.”

He can now do repetitive exercises on specific furniture, such as:

I like this chair: j’aime cette chaise (couch)

J’aime ce canapé (bed)

J’aime ce lit, etc.

 

 

9.  Advanced Students Must Get More Difficult Lessons

Some people may think their speed at mastering the new language is hampered by all kinds of easy exercises rendering their advance too slow for their liking. For these people more demanding exercises should be included giving them a taste of using the speedway in learning their new language.

A special key called Difficult Exercises should be at hand, giving these students the opportunity to stretch their brains.

For example, if your French is pretty good try this:

La chaise que tu aimes est celle que je viens d’acheter dans un magasin spécialisé en meubles sofistiqués (the chair which you like is the one I just bought in a store specialsing in sophisticated furniture) (êre fier de)

La chaise dont tu es fier est celle que je viens d’acheter dans un magasin spécialisé en meubles sofistiqués. (the chair you are proud of is the one that I just bought in a store specialsing in sophisticated furniture), etc.

10.  Advanced Students Must Get To Study Lessons That Interest Them

Different people have different interests. A plumber has a different field of interests than a lawyer, and a lawyer’s specialisiation differs from a theologian’s specialisation. So once you have mastered the basics of a language having covered basic grammar and vocubalary features you may start looking forward to learning about you own special field of knowledge in the foreign language.

For this reason an advanced course should provide you with a whole scope of subjects to choose from,

for example theology:

God so much loved the world that He gave His only begotten son so that anyone believing in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Dieu a tant aimé lemonde qu’il a donné son Fils unique afin que quiconque croit en lui ne périsse point, mais aie la vie éternelle…

or if you are a politician you might be interested in sentences like:

The intention by Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to proclaim an independent Palestinian state  is an issue hotly debated these days in the Assembly of the United Nations…

L’intention du président palestinien Mahmud Abbas de proclamer son état palestinien indépendent est à ce moment un sujet chaud de majeure importance pour l’Assemblé des Nations Unis

A lawyer might want to see a sentence like:

La Cour d’Appel a proposé comme témoin principal dans le cas judiciaire du double meurtre le chef de police, Monsieur X, qui était sur place au moment où…

The Court of Appeal has proposed as its main witness in the double murder case the head of police, Mr. X, who was around at the time of…

Not only should special advanced subject exercises be available for students exercising a specific profession, but reading texts should be included as well so as to further enhance the students’ vocubalury learning and training. This leads to my tenth suggestion on behalf of the development of good language training courses:

11.  Your Training Should Contain Reading Texts at Different Levels

For easy reading texts one can think of reading exercises like the following:

The house was situated in a busy part of town. Its green walls were beautiful. People liked to look at it and talk to its owner whenever they saw him on the street….

La maison se trouvait dans une partie animée de la ville. Ses murs verts étaient magnifiques. Les gens aimaient la regarder  et aimaient parler avec son propriétaire toujours quand ils le voiaient dans la rue…

At a more complicated level one could think of a text of the following make-up:

German and American politicians keep pondering about the possible outcome of the latest European negotiations  on the evermore deteriorating situation concerning Greece’s financial debt crisis.. This week it became clear,however, that Europe is not interested in a too forceful American involvement as to what it should do in order to resolve the present crisis…

Politiciens allemands et américains continuent de réfléchir sur le résultat possible des négotiations européennes ultérieures touchant la situation autour de la crise des dettes grecques s’aggravant de plus en plus. Cette semaine, pourtant, il est devenu clair que l’Europe ne s’intéresse pas à un engagement américain trop aggressif  ayant l’objectif de soumettre les européens aux idées des américains  comment il faudrait résoudre la crise actuelle..

So far my contribution. I hope this contribution will be to the satisfaction of everyone reading my article.

Ed:  Mark Benninga is looking for work that would use his language talents.  If you would like to contact him please contact-us.

 

 

 

13 Comments
  • Martha Jarvis

    Your suggestions are “spot on”, particularly the concept of marryng the image and the sound. Most programs that I have investigated do not approach language instruction this way, rather, it is an approach that uses sound and language. Can you suggest a program to me that incorporates your thinking? As a retired teacher, I have thought often of literally going to school as a first grader, though that might well be advanced in some situations. But this approach is not particularly feasible. In any event, thank you for your contributions on this website.

     
    Reply
  • Not bad advice. But in my 30+ years of language training and teaching, I’ve found that these methods can sometimes slow a student down. The method I’ve developed shows that the language itself tells you how to learn and use it, thus accelerating the learning process – along with better memorization.

    Which is why I’m conversational in 23 languages and can read an additional 50. :-)

     
    Reply
    • thomas

      Sean –

      It’s always great to get to touch base with a language enthusiast such as yourself. I’d love to know more about your experience learning more languages and the methods you’ve developed. My fascination with language stems more into the way the mind wraps itself around ideas based on the way those ideas are presented in the language and then how the culture as a whole is shaped from that unfolding.

      Please do share!

      Thomas

       
      Reply
  • Thank you Thomas. As I read my reply, I apologize as it sounds a little arrogant. It shouldn’t have read that way.

    The methods I employ is a result of almost 35 years of study and research. Languages give you clues and hints to learn them. It’s just a matter of how to be taught to look for them. Clicking my name goes to my website – there are pages with my notes and research for learning and teaching languages. I also have some books I’ve authored to show how, in just an hour, you can have a solid foundation in Spanish, French or Italian without classes or lessons.

    If it’s okay with the owners of this website to say so, I can be contacted thorough the website. I’m also on Facebook (seanlyoung84).

    Thanks! :-)

     
    Reply
  • KayaSnow

    I just wanted to mention that it is common practise for french people use the word ‘on’ in instead if ‘nous’ for we (it should actually mean ‘one’ as in: ‘one does this’ and they use it as that as well but whatever) and also when making things negative in writing you write ‘ne’ and ‘pas’ eg. ‘Je ne sais pas’ (I dont know) but when it is said they often (pretty much always unless its in Parliament of something and they’re on their best behaviour) leave the ‘ne’ out eg. ‘Je sais pas’ :) hope this helps someone out there.

     
    Reply
  • jessica

    My last French lesson was in high school, but I believe one should say, “Je m’appelle Jessica” rather than “Je suis Jessica.”

    My French teacher would tape a brief excerpt of that morning’s French language news program, and write out a transcription leaving a few words blank. We would listen to the program, follow along and fill in the blanks. By the end of the course it was almost all blanks with only a bit of specialized vocabulary given, and we had improved such that we could follow along easily. And it was fun!!

    Your learning techniques are very interesting, and I see how they would work well.

     
    Reply
  • Delphine

    Thank you Thomas for you article, it’s very interesting
    Your way of teaching looks like mine. :)
    (i’m a teacher in a french language school in Paris (http://www.france-langue.com) )

    Learn french is pretty difficult but with good tips (like yours) it can become very fun !

     
    Reply
  • jacklyn mack

    Well said !

     
    Reply
  • Monica

    I always wanted to learn french, & have my children know it from the start so they would at least have a firm knowlege of two languages naturally, so i started my son off with his learning dvds in the french sound track, with the subtitles on. I have learned alot pretty fast with that method. You are picking up things you dont even realize you are. I’ll watch a movie in french and not know what they are saying, then put another one on, and recognize a word from the previous. Like, ‘hey, thats what that means! I remember that word from that other movie’. Your brain puts the meaning together in your mind from watching the movie sceen without you trying. Also, i have found small childrens books for early learning with the audio cd a BIG help.

     
    Reply
  • Monica

    Oh yeah i forgot, my favorite way to learn vocabulary, is music. I figured songs get stuck in our heads all the time, so might as well try to make some better use of that time & get french words along with it stuck in there as well. Its fun that way cause i dont feel like i’m vocab drilling when i really am, & once i get the lyrics down, i have my new vocabulary words down, & its not hard to do if you pick music you like to hear. You WANT to drill your words cause its just as easy as singing along to your ipod. & i do the same with my 3 year olds music, he loves it & we have a great time learning. Good luck to everyone! :)

     
    Reply
  • shahin

    What a great site! I accidentally came across it and I am so happy. I would like to practice my rusted French. I know very little but would like to improve it much more. What DVDs, and books do you suggest for the right pronunciation of the words as well as the grammar? I need to practice and advance in this language. Would you please help me?
    I am going to benefit from your style and your wonderful way of teaching.
    Thank you so so much indeed.
    Shahin

     
    Reply
  • Adeeb

    This is wonderful

     
    Reply
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