French, the Fun Way

When my school asked me if I felt comfortable teaching French in the fall, I answered truthfully that I needed some review first. In fact, I hadn't studied it formally since I was my students' age, at which time most of them weren't even born. I was blessed with a good memory and enough interest to practice from time to time on friends and during trips abroad, but I know that is no substitute for regular, intense study. So when the school offered to spring for a refresher course, I jumped at the chance, requesting an online class that I could complete around my erratic summer hours.


I'm pretty sure I could learn Sanskrit if it used kitten pictures as visual aids.

Rosetta Stone preaches total immersion: using photos and native speakers, the course doesn't contain a word of English, and uses complete sentences almost exclusively. I'm not sure if it would be as effective without my previous education, or whether I would be completely overwhelmed (after chatting with some of the other learners, I think the latter is more likely.) Still, it's a great mix of speaking, reading, writing and listening, with vocabulary and grammar drills mixed in for good measure (some in the form of optional games, which can be played alone or with other online students.)

At the end of each unit (there are four within each level, and five levels altogether) students schedule a session with a language coach. Up to three other students also attend, speaking only in the target language, and everyone has fun practicing their new skills. There is great variation among the coaches; I've had some terrific ones and some who ask the same questions over and over again. Likewise, among the students, there are some who, like me, have studied the language before, and some who are struggling for basic proficiency. The most fun sessions have been when the teacher is relaxed and the students curious; s/he will allow us to simply converse, teaching new vocabulary and phrases in conjunction with the guided practice set forth by the program. And even when connection problems prevent actual instruction, the experience is enjoyable: once the instructor was cut off halfway through, but we all stayed online and dutifully asked questions in French until the session ended.

Anyway, for homeschoolers or lifelong learners, I think it would be hard to beat this course for the price. By coincidence, I have two other friends in the program at the same time: one who is learning for fun and another who is preparing for a monthlong family trip to Paris. Both have had fun, though Kelly (who is studying for the first time) says she sometimes has to repeat lessons to really learn them, and Julie is frustrated by the headset that seems to have constant technical difficulties. (Since I did the online course, mine didn't come with a headset; my iPod earbuds have worked pretty well.)


C'est vrai. Speaking from experience.