The daughter of a friend of my cousin (did you follow that?) has started using the Rosetta Stone software to learn French; she's in middle school and living in Cheyenne, WY, where she can't take a French class until high school. They're wondering if the software will be enough and how to reinforce what she's learning. Instead of just emailing them some recommendations for enhancing her studies, I thought it would be a good idea to post them on the blog and ask my readers for additional possibilities!
While these ideas are directed at a middle school student learning beginning French on her own in Wyoming, most of them would be applicable to students of any age and any language who want to supplement the Rosetta Stone (or other language learning software). You have to be very dedicated to learn a language by yourself exclusively from a CD-ROM! It's important to bring more into the equation.
Find people to practice speaking with. (This is easier said than done in a place like Cheyenne, but still possible!) Contact your local Alliance Française (a nonprofit international organization that offers French classes and activities for Francophones and Francophiles; the closest AF to Cheyenne is unfortunately in Denver). Take advantage of opportunities that community colleges and universities offer--for example, find out if you can attend a class there (many have study privileges for non-degree-seeking students, especially senior citizens), if they sponsor a French film series, if non-students are welcome at French club events, if the school hosts a conversation group (Colorado State University, not far from Cheyenne, does all this). Call the foreign language department and ask for info about events; contact the admissions office about taking a class. (Community colleges often tend to offer beginning conversation classes and language for travel classes, recognizing that many students want the skills from the language but aren't ever planning on majoring in it.)
Other possibilities for speaking practice would include hiring a tutor. To find someone, contact the foreign language office at schools, who often keep a list of available tutors, and/or ask high school teachers if they do private tutoring or could recommend someone. You could also put up notices on bulletin boards or on Craig's List. Also consider finding a babysitter who speaks the language (if the student is young) or babysitting kids who speak the language, if the student is old enough (check the International Programs office at a university or, again, Craig's List). Finally, investigate the possibility of doing a language exchange with a native speaker: you help them with their English and they help you with the language you're working on. This would not have to entail formal lessons; rather, you'd meet and spend half an hour chatting in each language.
Improving your listening comprehension will have a positive effect on your speaking ability and your vocabulary in the target language. Therefore, watch movies on DVD with the subtitles and/or soundtrack in the target language (start with American movies whose plot you're already familiar with). Also, listen to music and read along with the lyrics. You can buy CDs, download individual songs from the Internet, listen to radio stations online, etc. Try several different styles--contemporary music might be harder to understand than older songs, while children's songs tend to rely on lots of repetition which is good for beginners. For French, you can find lyrics to just about every song ever written at paroles.net.
Read simple things. These might include: poems, short texts, and cultural notes from a first-year textbook; websites on topics that interest you (including commercial sites from stores like clothing shops or grocery stores); websites with material for children such as nursery rhymes (for example, momes.net for French); translations of books and stories you already know, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar (try to focus on stories told in the present tense for beginners); books that have accompanying tapes/CDs of a narrator reading the story; the website Tumblebooks which offers many animated and narrated books in English, French, and Spanish with a handful of other languages; and bilingual picture dictionaries. Reading in another language is empowering and expands your vocabulary exponentially while exposing you to grammar in context (rather than in a series of unrelated sentences used as examples as so many textbooks present).
By the way, speaking of vocabulary, keep track of new words that you encounter outside of the educational CD-ROMs. I recommend using an address book whose pages are notched with the letters, which will allow you to keep words in more or less alphabetical order. Once you've looked a word up in the dictionary three or more times (keep track with check marks), then consider it important and useful enough to learn by heart. Copy it into your vocab notebook with the English translation, but also note the part of speech, any expressions it occurs in (like idioms and phrasal verbs), and other relevant information. If you have a small paperback dictionary that doesn't provide much detail, consult an online bilingual dictionary (such as wordreference.com, which covers French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese). And label objects around your house with notecards in the target language--you'll see them all the time and they'll sink in! (In college, I hung posters with irregular French verb conjugations in the bathroom and over the stove; even my linguaphobic roommate learned a few Frenchy things that year!)
Take advantage of interactive websites which can help with reading and listening skills. In French for teens and younger students, I like:
Kids Playground for FSL (French as a Second Language)
FLES resources (links to other websites for kids learning French, like "adopt an escargot")
The BBC's very interactive and kid-friendly French for Children website
Petit Ours Brun (click on the link to take you to the magazines' home page, then click on the four pictures at the top of the page for activities)
French Embassy children's pages with simple cultural readings
Reading A-Z's printable children's picture books (plus some shorter chapter books) in French
Lire et récréer with stories, poems, and more, including worksheets (all in French)
Mama Lisa's songs and nursery rhymes
Then move on to writing: find a penpal (or "keypal," as email penpals are called) and/or keep a journal in the language. Even beginners can keep track of, say, the weather and their feelings on a daily basis!
Children have one awesome opportunity not open to adults: attend a Concordia Language Village for an immersion experience in the language with high-quality teaching. Located throughout Minnesota, the villages are amazing: they are summer immersion camps for 14 different languages for kids through 12th grade. In high school, I attended Sjolunden, the Swedish village, for two weeks, and Lac du Bois, the French village, for a month (and then got credit for a year of high school French because it's so intensive). They recreate the country where the language is spoken, right down to exchanging your money for the other country's currency, feeding you food typical of that place, and taking away reading material in English when you go through "customs." All the activities, from sports and meals, are centered on exposing the campers to the target language and teaching them about the target culture(s), and there are formal language classes several times a day as well. It's all extremely interactive and high energy with great communicative activities. (Plus I can still sing songs from both camps 15+ years later!) I would recommend these camps to any child learning any language they offer (from Spanish to Arabic and Korean), even if the child is a complete beginner. (And last year, one of my former students worked as a counselor at Lac du Bois! I was thrilled.)
Adults, on the other hand can't go to summer camp, but of course they can travel abroad and even live with host families and take classes in countries where the target language is spoken! The language villages or teen/adult study abroad are ideal for really learning the language--just working with a CD-ROM or taking a class or three isn't enough.
Anyone else have suggestions for this middle schooler or other people using Rosetta Stone? Click on "comments" to share your advice!