French has turned out to be a lifelong enterprise for me, which will probably never end until I die.
I recently heard Kerstin Cable, in an interview by Géraldine Lepère, talk about the importance of specific long-term language goals as well as a plan to reach them. A goal to get “fluent” is way too vague. French has turned out to be a lifelong enterprise for me, which I started when I was a teenager and will probably never end until I die. After listening to Kerstin, I thought about French and realized that I have quite a few specific goals which I would like to meet in my lifetime. In case anyone is interested, here they are. Writing them down like this will help me to think about my goals for each of my other languages. Reading about them might help you to think about your own goals for each language and make them clear in your mind.
First, I have several goals which I can group together. These are the ones I’ve been working on for the past several years. Essentially, when I graduated from the university (Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, USA) with a Bachelor of Arts in French, my French skills were actually rather weak. My teacher said I was only “moderately fluent.” (I could probably converse at a B1 level.) I didn’t like to practice conversation because I didn’t like hearing myself speak French: my own pronunciation sounded ugly to my ears (and I wasn’t yet able to pronounce the French “R”). Another problem I had was that I didn’t have interesting things to read (such as graded readers or LingQ). That means my vocabulary was too small to read the news or French literature. These are things I feel in hindsight that I should have been able to do when I graduated. After that, I didn’t use French for over two decades, but I started it up again a few years ago and have been learning it ever since.
So, my first set of goals involves achieving skills I felt I should have had when I graduated. Over the last few years, I achieved two of them: I built up a strong vocabulary through reading novels and I built up my conversational skills to a high-intermediate (B2) level.
These give me the foundation for my next goal, which I’m working on now and which I’ve come close to achieving: comprehending (audio) news broadcasts. I’ve been using LingQ and Fiverr to help me. I pay someone on Fiverr to transcribe short news videos from YouTube and then I use LingQ to help me read the transcripts, after which I rewatch the videos. The videos are about Francophone African news, so the journalists have a variety of French accents. Now that I’ve been introduced to a few different accents, Standard French sounds a lot easier! And for the past two weeks, I’ve been listening to live news audio broadcasts. I understand a lot, but there’s a lot I still don’t understand. At this rate, I should be able to understand most of it soon.
My next goal will be to improve my pronunciation. For this, I purchased a Mimic Method course by Idahosa Ness, and I’ll also listen to YouTube videos about the differences between written French and spoken French. I’ve started learning German, and this has helped my French “R” tremendously, but I don’t pronounce it consistently yet. After that, I’ll start reading famous French literature, starting with Jules Verne and Molière. That will complete my first group of goals, after which I’ll have achieved what I had hoped to achieve when I finished college. To recap, those goals are: vocabulary, conversation, listening to the news, pronunciation, and reading French literature.
I have four more goals after I complete these goals. They’re more like wishes, but certainly achievable. I can meet them in any order, but the following order seems to go from the easiest to the most difficult.
(1.) I’ve been studying the French education system, and I’m impressed by it. The French study history and geography almost every year–from the beginning of elementary school through at least middle school. They also study a lot of math and science. Most students are required to study philosophy during their last year of high school. And all students in a general high school are required to select a study track: either languages and literature, or economics and social sciences, or physical sciences. And each year builds on intellectual skills learned the previous year. If a student is lazy or distracted one year, they will be at a disadvantage the following year. By graduation, French students in a general high school have achieved the broad liberal arts education that US students get in college. Some high school graduates are qualified for white collar or gray collar work, or so I’ve heard. I would love that kind of education! So, I bought some schoolbooks via Amazon France and plan to read them. I’ll probably choose the economics and social sciences track with a specialization in geography, if I can find all the schoolbooks I need.
(2.) One of my dreams is to use at least one foreign language in a career. My current, tentative plan is to become a multilingual tour guide when I reach retirement age. Therefore, my goal is to make YouTube videos where I talk in French about the local history around where I live. I can probably try to do it now, but I think it will be easier after I’ve read some history schoolbooks in French. Some science schoolbooks can help me, too, if I talk about local geology in those videos.
(3.) French is my most advanced foreign language. I’ve observed that the confidence I gain as I improve my French makes it easier to improve in my other languages. It’s like cutting a trail with my French that makes it easier for other languages to follow. French becomes a template for the other languages, like a prototype. Therefore, the more advanced I can get in French, the better. My goal, then, is to reach the C1 (low-advanced/moderately scholarly) proficiency level in French. Achieving all of the goals above might bring me up to C1 automatically. If not, I’ll be nearly there, I think.
(4.) Finally, another dream is to take university classes in another language. Since they’re expensive, MOOC’s (free, non-credit university courses) will suffice. They’ll help me to maintain my C1 level and they’ll be easier to complete if I achieve C1 first.
The goals I’m working on now will provide me a solid foundation for the final four goals. I’ve achieved two goals from the first set so far and I’m close to meeting the third. This makes me happy. I recommend you make long-term goals for each of your languages (or at least your most important language or two). Have you met any goals already? Are you close to meeting any others? Answering these questions can increase your confidence (maybe) and it will also give you clues about the skills you should work on now in order to meet your next goal.