“Alexa, teach me French!”Read More
Broadening Your Horizons
One of the biggest obstacles to foreign language learning, in my opinion, is a frustrating sort of double bind that many amateurs encounter. On the one hand, new students are encouraged to expose themselves to a healthy dose of that language’s culture (its customs, traditions, singularities, etc.) And as fugacious a task this may be — what is culture, anyways? — the only way that students can perceive another culture is via the filter of their own. In short, language learning is inevitably “colored” by one’s own experiences and by one’s one situatedness in their own linguistic frame; driving to the fabled “essence” of a different culture just isn’t possible. (Moreover, some would even go so far as to question how much of an “essence” any one culture may lay claim to.) I would argue that the best way to circumvent this frustrating situation is to work within the concrete, defined set of boundaries and nuances that we can indeed begin to understand – that is to say, grammar! A solid comprehension of the purring cogs and wheels that regulate the innards of spoken language might not necessarily or even immediately help us know what makes that language’s culture “tick”. However, it does give us a firm launching point from which we are better able to realize, appreciate, and situate the various degrees of significance in those moments when rules are indeed eventually broken.Read More
Beyond the one-off fill-in-the-blank questions that we’ve treated in previous posts, the paragraph completion series uses the same kind of setup, but with the added twist that there has to be contextual coherence among the answers. All this means is that when faced with a paragraph like the one below, you’ll have to select answers that make sense in view of the whole “narrative.” Let’s take a look at a sample paragraph and see if we can crack it:
Bonjour again, my dear readers! I’m back with the next installment of my posts about the SAT II French subject test.
Bonjour, mes chers lecteurs ! Aujourd’hui, nous allons discuter quelques « tips » pour les sections de l’examen SAT-II en français sur la grammaire ! But don’t worry, from here on out, the post will be in English.
I started this post off in French, however, to remind you that your mind works differently in the presence of a foreign language. The way you read the first two sentences was likely very different from the way that you are reading this sentence right now. Much of this has to do with the ways that our brains process verbal information. For those of you for whom French is not your primarily language, the chances are high that when you read French, your mind approaches it a little more slowly and analytically than when you encounter English on the page. This might mean that you are translating linearly – that is, word by word across a sentence – or thinking more consciously about the language’s structure – “OK, so the subject is x and then there’s a verb and an adverb right next to the subject…” – or maybe just trying to figure out how the sentence would sound if it were read aloud (this mode of virtual audible reading, called subvocalization, is a key component of the way that our brains process written language!). In any event, chances are that you come to a French sentence differently than an English one.