Ever gone to a foreign place without knowing anything about it beforehand?
If so, I commend you.
But I don’t envy you.
As cool and intrepid as it might seem to swoop into an unknown town with no knowledge of the local language or culture, it’s not the smartest or most efficient way to travel.
For one thing, shopping for deals on plane tickets and lodging ahead of time is just a good idea.
For another, knowing at least a few polite phrases to say to people can keep you from coming across like a complete jerkwad.
Duh. We know long-distance traveling is something you plan for, unless you happen to have a rich friend who spontaneously offers to fly you out to the French Riviera on a private jet for the weekend (in which case, I do envy you after all).
When we want to go someplace, we do online research. We make lists. We may even consult a travel agency or buy a package tour.
So why do we treat learning a language any differently?
When I started learning French in school, I didn’t bother to find out anything about the language ahead of time.
I just accepted the textbook that was given to me, did the exercises and spoke when the teacher asked me a question.
It didn’t occur to me that there was any other way, that I could question these learning methods or peek at what was ahead. I didn’t even know that the subjunctive existed until my second year of high school French.
It still turned out okay. I liked all of my teachers, loved French and ended up building a nice foundation that I expanded upon later with much more enjoyable means of learning.
But looking back, it seems insane.
It seems crazy that I could barely see the road ahead of me, that I couldn’t picture what it was going to take to become fluent.
If you’re thinking about learning French, or if you’ve started learning it and understandably given up out of discouragement, you may want to consider taking a tour through the French language.
Yes, a tour. You know, so you can hear about its main points and challenges from someone who’s been there, done that. So you can just sit back, relax and listen to a street-smart expert point out the sights as well as give you his personal insights and tips for getting around.
“Why French Is Easy” by Benny Lewis (also known as Benny the Irish Polyglot) of Fluent in 3 Months is exactly that kind of tour.
And we’re taking the opportunity to explain to you in depth exactly what you’ll be getting. You can check out our General Learner blog for a rundown of two other useful FI3M resources: FI3M Premium and Conversation Countdown.
Here, we’ll be taking a look at “Why French Is Easy.”
Before diving in, let me tell you about FluentU.
Who Can Benefit from “Why French Is Easy”?
- People interested in finding out more about French who already know a little about languages. If you’ve never studied any foreign language before, it might be difficult to grasp some of the concepts Benny brings up in this book, as he does sort of fly through the language. His philosophy, here and in general, is to build confidence by focusing first on how the “hard” parts of a language have positive or “easy” aspects to them as well. This makes for a nice user-friendly overview of French, as long as you already have a basic understanding of things like sentence structure and how it can vary between languages.
- Beginning French learners who feel stuck or are considering giving up. Despite the broad scope of this book, it’s most helpful for beginners who stand to gain confidence from seeing the big picture. I really wish I’d had something like this when I was starting to learn French. I think I would’ve moved much faster. I think I would’ve been excited to uncover a basic, imperfect, working kind of fluency and maybe not gotten hung up for years on perfecting verb conjugations.
- New French learners who aren’t sure what to do next. There are already a ton of resources, programs and textbooks out there for French learners. A lot of people get stuck not because they’re fed up with the language itself, but just because they don’t know what to do, in what order. “Why French Is Easy” is great for the French learner who wants someone else to do the narrowing down and decision-making for them, as it includes a limited number of techniques and resources presented in an easy-to-read, comprehensive format.
- People who just don’t want to sit in a classroom. If you’d prefer to learn French by getting on the next plane to Paris or Quebec City, or if, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you’d like to learn at home in your pajamas, “Why French Is Easy” has got your number.
What “Why French Is Easy” Can Do for You
“Why French Is Easy” focuses most concretely on improving your French speaking skills. It revolves around the idea that if you start speaking as soon as possible and move forward at a steady pace without being afraid of making mistakes, you’ll progress in the language in general. It focuses less on writing and spelling than some of the other books in this series and more on gathering your grammar and vocabulary together into a manageable package so you can start speaking and understanding French.
“Why French Is Easy” will be most beneficial to those who are willing to actually put in the work. It won’t be enough to just read through this book. You’ll have to check out the other resources Benny recommends, set up a plan to immerse yourself in the language and make some decisions on your own. “Why French Is Easy” is not a French course and only delves into the language itself enough to show you how you can go about tackling it. But it provides a nice, comprehensive template for building your own study plan.
A Closer Look: Summary Breakdown of “Why French Is Easy”
Part One: Getting Started is all about motivation and attitude. It focuses on fostering a positive philosophy for learning French that includes ditching perfectionism, as well as looking ahead to some concrete techniques like immersion, creating a language log and setting short-term goals.
Part Two: Speaking French provides specific advice and resources for improving your French listening skills after acknowledging how and why spoken French can be oh-so-difficult to grasp. Then, Benny takes on French pronunciation. It makes sense that this subject takes up a larger proportion of the overall book, as French pronunciation can be one of the more intimidating aspects of the language for beginners, and it’s also one of the more important aspects when you’re trying to communicate.
English equivalents are provided here for cutting to the chase and making yourself understood—language purists may cringe, but the average learner will rejoice. This section wraps up with some recommended ideas and resources for finding tutors and language exchange partners.
Part Three: Grammar starts by explaining what’s not difficult about French grammar, or how it compares favorably to other languages in this area. You may want to focus extra hard on this part, because French grammar has an especially bad reputation that it only kinda deserves. If French is the first language you’re learning after English, you may not be able to appreciate exactly how nice it is that French has no cases, but trust me, it’s really nice.
What Benny manages to show in this section—quite successfully, I think—is that a lot of the nitpicky stuff in French doesn’t actually affect your ability to be understood. Gender, conjugations, helping verbs, etc. are good to learn, but you can start speaking and putting together comprehensible sentences long before you’ve memorized these parts of the language, and people will understand you.
It’s probably worth mentioning that this grammar section, like the rest of the book, is fairly barebones, so even though the book focuses largely on speaking, there are some aspects of spoken language that are left out here (like dropping the first part of the double negative, for example). Part of the whole point, though, is that a lot of this stuff won’t be a hinderance in actual conversation even if you do mess it up, and you’ll definitely get a better idea of how conversations tend to go after checking out some of the listening resources in Part Two.
Part Four: Words should be pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re a first-time language learner you may find it incredibly useful. It covers taking advantage of the shared linguistic heritage of English and French, as well as using mnemonic devices and spaced repetition.
The book comes with a bonus pack of two items:
The French Digital Immersion Setup Guide gives you step-by-step directions for setting up your browser, keyboard, devices and Facebook page for reading and typing in French. It also recommends a few useful apps with different functions that can help you immerse yourself in the language. At the end, there’s a section for setting up your Kindle with a French-English dictionary, which you’ll definitely want to do because it’s awesome. Yes, you can find all this information online, but this is faster than spending hours searching and tinkering. Speaking from experience.
The French Online Immersion Sample Daily Schedule gives you an idea of how you could schedule a day of French immersion with different programs, apps and materials, and provides a list of resources and tools to get you started.
Wrap-up and Conclusion
As already mentioned, I wish that I’d had “Why French Is Easy” when I started learning French. I think it’s worth adding that I could see it being useful even for high school students, or as a supplement to a more formal learning approach. The reason for this is that despite the fact that immersing yourself immediately seems like a hardcore way to learn French, it’s easier this way. That’s the whole point. This book and the approach that goes along with it are actually very gentle and flexible compared to being forced to cram verb tables while being effectively blinded to the language as a whole.
So even if you are being forced to cram verb tables, this book can give you a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel and let you relax a bit.
“Why French Is Easy” will most benefit beginning learners who still need to be empowered in their French learning. Experienced language learners or advanced French learners who are already familiar with modern language-learning concepts and online resources may not find much here that’s new to them. A lot of the information in this book, aside from Benny’s personal experiences, suggestions and philosophy, can technically be found elsewhere.
Still, beginners benefit hugely from getting a bundle of positive arguments for why French doesn’t suck to learn, a concrete approach to learning French and a focused set of resources that you don’t have to think too hard about.
As someone who has put together a lot of these concepts and resources piecemeal over a matter of years, I’d definitely recommend catching a break where you can and using “Why French Is Easy” to boost yourself to the intermediate level and beyond.
Elisabeth Cook is a freelance writer, language learner and literature lover. You can check out more of her writing on her blog, Lit All Over.
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