Week One: The Assessment

Next Tuesday I will take my first French class since leaving school over eight years ago. Shameful though it is, despite studying the language for six years at secondary school, I will be starting once again, at the very beginning. And this, I assure you, is in no part down to false modesty.

Prior to enrollment I was asked to attend a free one-on-one evaluation. Any notion I had of possessing something approaching basic competency was swiftly dispelled as I read the first section of the self-assessment form. Honesty prevented me from ticking even one of the five boxes required as a minimum indication of elementary ability.


The first section of my self-assessment form. I never made it to the second section.

Section one of my self-assessment form. I never made it to section two.


It actually became quite embarrassing as I tried to convince my incredulous evaluator of my limitations. As a last resort I was forced into a demonstration. Fortunately, this didn’t last very long and I was quickly advised to enroll at Level A1.

For an idea of how successful my attempts to converse with my French evaluator were check out ‘Foux Du Fafa’ by Flight of the Conchords. It’s disturbingly reminiscent.

As a teacher of Irish, during the first week of class I usually ask my students to discuss their reasons for studying the language, their experience with language in general, and their thoughts on how best to learn. Now that I’m the student I suppose there’s no better place to start!

I have a couple of reasons for wanting to learn French. Firstly, as a language teacher, I feel that by putting myself in the shoes of my students I will be able to better understand the challenges they face and therefore, will be able to improve as a teacher. Secondly, I have become fascinated by linguistics and am hoping to go on to study the subject in the near future. I am certain that learning a new language will be of great benefit to me in this regard.

The reason I have chosen French is that I have a strong personal connection to both France and Canada. As a kid I spent many family holidays in France. I also had one of the greatest years of my life in Canada and, though I was in Toronto and not in Québec, I still realise the enormous significance of the language as a component of Canadian identity. If everything worked out perfectly I would love to move to Montréal someday. For someone interested in linguistics and enamoured with French, I can’t think of a better place to live. On top of all that, I just think French is a particularly beautiful language!

Currently, I speak two languages, Irish and English. I have English from birth and, though Irish is not my mother tongue, I did receive my education through Irish and have spent most of my life studying and working with the language. English is my first language but Irish is my language of choice.

At the very least, my being bilingual removes any subconsious doubts regarding my ability to speak another language. However, having acquired both English and Irish in a holistic, natural way, I am unsure as to what other ways my language experience can be of benefit to me.

Though I am taking the traditional route of formal classes this will be but one aspect of my endeavour to acquire French. I will be trying out any and every method of language learning possible. From Duolingo and Skype, to music, TV, podcasts, and newspapers. Whatever I can think of or whatever anyone else can recommend!

Recently, I came across Benny Lewis’ Fluent in Three Months blog (http://www.fluentin3months.com/). I’ll definitely be talking about Benny in future posts but for today I’m simply going to take a leaf out of his book and start off the way I mean to continue, by learning French through speaking it. With that in mind, here’s a short video of me introducing myself as best I can with what remains of my French learned at school:

Any thoughts you might have on how best (or worst) to learn a language are hugely welcomed in the comments section below. I’d especially love to hear any advice you might have on how to approach the first few days and weeks.

À bientôt!