Becoming Fluent in French – Progress So Far

I’ve got another post in draft about how much energy it takes to try and live in a new country and also learn the language of that country at the same time. It’ll be finished soon. For now though I wanted to write a quick post about where I am with my language learning journey, keeping in mind that when I first came here I really only had a few basics under my belt. I could ask for coffee, say please, thank you, and see you later – and that was just about it! So where am I now and what do I need to learn next?

Well, one of the things James did to try and help me when we first got here was to write out a list of the main verbs he said he knew and used regularly. To me he sounded really competent but he assured me he was just muddling along phrasing comments and questions around a small bunch of verbs he knew well. The list was pretty intimidating at the time. I found it really hard to translate learning into usage. At first I was focussed on putting my 1,000 most commonly used French words into Anki, which meant the infinitive form of some verbs but mostly nouns and adjectives. I really struggled to see how this base would ever get me to the point where I might actually have a conversation with someone. The list got lost, we moved house, bed times got more chaotic, and I generally had more to do, which meant Anki got lost by the way side. But I also started trying to speak more, gaining confidence in a two steps forward, one back kind of way.

So to my surprise, when I found the original list James wrote for me, I was so happy to look down and realise I now now and regularly use all of those and a few more besides. Some I have a better grasp of than others mostly because I am using them more often, but on the whole I am pretty nifty in the present tense with all of them.

Here’s the list, in no particular order.

pouvoir to can
vouloir to want
donner to give
aller to go
faire to make/to do
écouter to hear
penser to think
espérer to hope
être to be
avoir to have
changer to change
acheter to buy
vendre to sell
venir to come
apprendre to learn
comprendre to understand
arranger to arrange
demander to ask
attendre to wait
essayer to try

That’s not bad at all and that’s just the list of the top of my tired head. There are others I use (demanager, partager, ecrirer, to name a few) but these are my go-tos and, miraculously, as James said, they do seem to enable me to muddle along in a basic conversation.

It’s a start. But there are so many more. We really take for granted how much language we acquire in our native tongue.

Now I can muddle by I’ve hit the point where I’m getting frustrated again. I’ve reached the limit of what I can do with what I know and need to know more – I love to chat! – so it’s time to progress again. For this I need a bunch of new verbs, of course. Every day there’s a conversation running in my head which involves updating a mental list of verbs I don’t currently know but wanted to use at some point during the day. Then there’s the verb tenses. If I’m to have any kind of meaningful discussion with anyone then I need to move out of the present tense and be able to say useful, normal things – which involves past and future tenses too.

While I’m definitely way ahead of where I started I’m really struggling to say what I want to because obviously this list is only scratching the surface. Baby steps though, and patience. If anyone had told me one year ago that today I’d be marching into the building supplies shop and asking – in French – for a plug and a breeze block (random, I know) or taking DS to creche and spending an hour there, talking (not quite chatting, but close) with his new nursery worker, I would have been very sceptical. But here I am. It’s wonderful!


How to Back Up Your Anki Flashcard Deck

Boring post alert! This is for mine and James’s benefit really because living in this tiny house things get lost all the time. James is in the habit of posting any new techy info he needs to remember on his blog, which works really well so I thought I’d try some of the same. As things like this are bound to come up again I’ve created a new category called Nerd Alert! This and any future computing-related posts will be filed under there. (This is me trying to be more organised and also rewaken my work brain.)

So, Anki flashcards. What are they and why am I backing them up? Well, the clue’s in the name. Yes, they’re digital flashcards that can be customised so that you can design your own system or download an existing deck and start from there. We’re both using the template deck that Gabriel Weiner advocates on his Fluent Forever site. The software is open source freeware that with versions for PC, Android, Mac. It’s a brilliant tool for learning a new language – or anything else, for that matter. You create your deck, adding new words or phrases then open up the software which uses spaced repetition to show you cards depending on how well you have learned them. Words or phrases you’re familiar with get shown less often than those you’re struggling with. It basically feeds you information in the same way that a parent teaches a child new words. Similarly, the key to success is little and often. Anyway, I digress.

The Anki software is easy to use – just download it from the web (for your PC) or from the Google or iTunes stores (for Android or Mac) – and away you go. If you’re moving between devices, as most people are these days, you can create an AnkiWeb account, which allows you to sync any changes in the form of new cards you’ve created or the latest results from a revision session so you can pick up and continue on any other device. It makes the learning method very portable unless sync doesn’t work properly. This has only happened to me one time and I think it was a “feature” of the way the Kindle Fire handles memory but enough hard work wasted in that one time – about three weeks worth of new cards, I think – that it can really throw your progress because without a backup you have to create any cards that have been lost from scratch. With so many new words to learn that’s not something I would wish on anyone (remember the days before autosave where the essay you were about to print out just disappeared because of a power cut?) Anyway, let’s just remind ourselves – always back your work up. Since that fateful day that an Anki sync ate my homework, this is the method I use. It works because I only ever use my PC to create new cards. Any other devices, like the Kindle or the mobile, come out when I want to test myself while out and about. With the “development deck” existing only on the PC, here are the steps I take to back it up after every deck update:

  1. Open SyncBack and run the Anki backup.

Haha, yes, that’s it! SyncBack is a genius bit of freeware that saves me hours of time backing up individual software programs or folders. When I got into trouble with Anki I created a new backup profile for Anki and now I can update it without having to remember where any of the files are.

So let’s make that:

Step 1. Download and install SyncBack. There’s a freeware version that I use but if you like it and will used it more extensively there are also paid for versions with more features.

Step 2. Open up Syncback and create a backup profile for Anki. This is what mine looks like. (**** is the username.) You want to backup (copying contents of folders A, B, and C, to D) not sync.


Step 3. Run the Anki  backup profile. You can check the files list or just okay it. I think I checked the first few times but now I’m happy with the way it works I just hit OK.

Step 4. Relax, you’re done!

Easy peasy, eh?

Are you using Anki to learn a language? How do you backup your files? Feel free to share!