For years I’ve flirted on and off with the French language and Assimil. I’ve done Michel Thomas’ amazing beginner and advanced French courses twice with great results and I recommend them to anyone wanting to get a fantastic start in a language. When my family and I began talking about vacationing in France last fall, I knew that this time though I wanted to really dig into the language and my Assimil book seemed just right. I had picked it up years ago, but never followed though. Now was the time.
Assimil is a French company that’s been around for decades and is very popular in France. Their courses all work the same way. You have a small, amusing daily lesson that’s in your target language (in my case French) on one side and your native language on the other. There are some little explanatory notes at the bottom. For the first 50 days you just listen to the audio, read the translation, say the lesson aloud, listen some more and do a few short writing exercises. For a more structured way to approach the lessons, which is what I did, follow these instructions taken from the Assimil Dutch course. This is how you do the first 50 lessons. The idea is just to passively take in the knowledge, this is your language infancy so to speak.
After 50 lessons, the “Active Wave” begins. You continue with your daily lessons, but you also go back to the front of the book and starting with lesson one, listen again to the lesson, read it through and then cover up the target language and translate the lesson from your native language. Of course by this time lesson one is a breeze, because you’re 50 lessons into the book. You continue doing this for the rest of the book, one passive lesson and then go back and do an active lesson. Eventually you finish the book passively and then have about 50 or so lessons remaining to go through again “actively”.
So after all that how did it work for me? Very, very well. When I was in France, I had gone completely through the book once and only had about 15 or so lessons left to complete “actively”. My second day there I had an in-depth conversation while buying sim cards for our cell phones with a phone rep completely in French, even though I’m sure the guy could have spoken English. I inquired and got reduced tariffs at museums, bought Navigo passes, fixed our Navigo cards when we messed them up, inquired about the difference between eau de toilette and cologne at Diptyque, and could read museum placards and labels on cosmetics and food all in French. With rapidly spoken French I could understand about 50 to 60% of what was coming back at me, enough in most cases to understand what I needed to understand. I’m not fluent in French (yet!) but definitely conversational and the results are amazing when you consider it took only about 6 months of study.
I’m planning on continuing with Assimil’s next level of study Using French along with various podcasts, videos, and radio broadcasts to up my listening comprehension which is what I find I struggle with the most. I can’t wait for my next trip to a French speaking country to see how I’ve progressed. I’m also hoping to be able to tackle some French literature untranslated after completing Using French.
I also have to note that I loved the dry humor sprinkled throughout the lessons. Some of them were laugh out loud funny, which always helps you stay motivated. My favorite was a story about a man who over indulges at an office party, drinks four whiskeys and a bottle of champagne, rolls home in a taxi and then accidentally breaks into his neighbor’s house thinking it’s his own.
Three cheers for Assimil!