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Learning French: why start with oral?

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Picture of Amélie Lachance

Amélie Lachance

French Coach at Expression-Transition

Are you starting to learn French? Here’s my advice: focus on speaking before writing!

-Wie heiβt du?
-Ich heiβe Amélie.

 Let me tell you about my first German course in 1998 .  Upon entering the classroom, our teacher’s first words were: “Wie heiβt du?”.  He called us in German to make us say our name. Without written support, he made us understand, with his body language, what the question “Wie heiβt du?” meant.  (What’s your name?), and how to introduce ourselves by saying “Ich heiβe Amélie“.

Not seeing the words that made up these sentences made me quite anxious, believe me. I frantically repeated an approximation resembling “Iche eise Amélie” while waiting for my turn to answer the fateful question, wondering if I would be able to say these two new words when my time came.

When my turn came, I did it! The pronunciation was certainly not perfect, but it was enough to introduce myself to the whole class. I came out of this course satisfied, boasting that I could already introduce myself in German, in addition to being able to tell my age.  😊

Why Writing Was in The Way at First

Today, thinking back to that first contact with the German language makes me smile. I now understand why our teacher asked us to say the words before seeing the representation in writing.  His goal was to be able to say, at the end of the class, these are the words that we said and memorized under pressure 😉.

The truth is that a written medium was not going to be of much help to us anyway.  The letter β was still unknown to us.  The sounds related to the letters “ch” and “h” in the German language were new to us as well. Wanting to encode and understand at the same time would have overloaded our brains and slowed down our learning process. The goal was just to understand the question and answer, simply.

Speak Now, With Pleasure

My anecdote about my first German course highlights the importance of starting to speak French right now.  Put written language aside and produce words and phrases NOW. What would you like to know how to say today? Don’t worry about whether what you’d like to say follows the logical order of learning a language. Have fun!

Do you love walking in the mountains? Learn to say, J’adore marcher en montagne.” Do you want to be able to chat with your neighbors? Learn to greet, to talk about the weather and to excuse yourself?

Bonjour! Comment allez-vous? Il fait beau aujourd’hui, hein? Bonne journée!

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