Why can’t I learn French?

Does it seem like the French language is not sticking? Does it seem like you are not moving forward in any meaningful way? Well, have hope because this blog post will tell you exactly what is wrong.

Without knowing you and without meeting you. Call it magic!

The actual reason is always to be found in a place that you are currently not looking for. I would like you to pay very close attention to this blog post and read it with utmost seriousness.

OuiCommunicate language school has video evidence that shows that by changing your approach to language learning, you will meet the desired results. You can see a student speak beautiful French after she followed our method. Why no more than one video? Simply because our other lovely students did not follow the instructions outlined in the text below.

When a student and a teacher come together for a class, they agree on a loosely-defined notion of “learning”. One of the problems in such arrangements is to not have properly agreed on the terms we are using. What is the definition of learning? How do you know your tutor doesn’t mean this word in a different way than you do?

The meaning of words is not something we all perfectly agree on. What does “clean” mean? What does “tall” mean? It is often the adjectives that are vague, but it can also be verbs such as the action of learning.

Well of course I know what learning means!”, we might exclaim. “It means putting the information in my head !” Yes, kind of. But when and how will you do this? How will you go from a state of “not knowing” to a state of “knowing”?

In the absence of a definite answer to this, the common downfall in the field of language learning is to try to adapt the tools that have worked for other areas of life, such as school learning. But have you ever considered that language learning might require a method of its own, which has nothing to do what we usually name “learning”?

For all the magnificent good it does to children, school learning has very little in common with language learning. If you want to check this for yourself, ask your child point blank if they can give you a lecture on any school topic of their choosing. It might be something they learned this week, or even last year.

Ask them what Algebra is or how the basics of Chemistry work and they likely won’t be able to tell you. The reason for this is because school does not teach to approach knowledge in such a way. Students do not have a structured understanding of what they are doing.

We are not suggesting that school knowledge is of no value, but we can all figure out for ourselves that between the student and the teacher there is a different breed of knowledge. It’s not that the teacher simply knows “more”, it’s that their knowledge has depth and can go upwards, downwards and sideways!

The student is the button pusher but the teacher is the one who understands why the buttons are pushed. Same topic but different knowledge.

Let’s imagine a made-up exam on the basics of motocross engine repairing for which a student will have to be able to point out the 5 top screws to tighten, what to do if the oil gets low and what is the maximum revolutions per minute that the engine can sustain. Would you say that by remembering this, the student is now able to hold their own in a conversation between mechanics? Probably not, and with good reason: their knowledge is surface-deep and serves for just one exam.

And this is precisely what knowing a language is: a conversation between mechanics of French. Naturally, not all native speakers of a language can explain the hows and the whys about grammar but it doesn’t matter to them: they have been taught how to repair motorcycle engines since they were 1 year old! They don’t need to rationalize it anymore! But you do!

The traditional tools you bring to a language class are guaranteed to fail every time because you are attempting to saw a piece of wood with a paintbrush. (pardon the image)

You may THINK you know how language learning works, but in spite of yourself you are bringing a whole truckload of of pre-conceptions and ideas with you that will impact the results. No-one is to be blamed, nor should you feel bad about it. As a society we are taught that “school equals learning”, a notion that is timidly being challenged by some forward-thinking Youtubers who are rightly putting into question traditional education and how it helps to adapt to the “modern world”. But the change is very slow…

An example? I have plenty. In a first 1:1 language class, the tutor might go over the list of important French verbs to get you started. Together, they will read the list with you, watch out for your pronunciation and correct you. After the class, the tutor will believe that you will learn the list by heart for next time, apply scrutiny and curiosity to the list and maybe even show up next time with some questions. Why does the tutor believe this? Well, because they just introduced you to a first building block upon which the second lesson will be built.

However, most students will walk away from the lesson fully content with having read the list together while not seeing the importance of this list. It will not cross their minds to learn it and perhaps they even think that there’s no more to the job. That’s it, we saw the verbs. Proof being that we read them together ! But NO! Big, big NOOOO !

We actually didn’t do anything! We merely pointed out the existence of these verbs. Remember how we said you had the KNOW the knowledge. How will this happen without actively engaging in KNOWING this knowledge?

No public high school requires of a student to go home at night and remember what has been seen during class that day. They can even skip a few classes, or weeks, and just catch up later. But in language learning, it all ties together like a canvas. And the learning has to be done straight away.

If you bring the tools of a high school to a language course, it will simply not work. During the next class, your tutor might ask you how the list of important French verbs went and you might answer “well”. You might not even understand the meaning of the question, since you both already read them together. You then move onto the next topic of French. But multiply that by a few lessons, weeks or months, and you will have accumulated a loss in learning that is massive.

Instead of knowing the 23 topics that your tutor guided your through, the student might still only know 2 topics – and not well at that. The question will then arise of “when will I be able to speak French?” The answer is simply: the day you change your method and start memorizing.

Inevitably, when the results of your classes are not those you expected, there is a very real risk of looking for alternative answers and wasting even more time. It is then that students start to try a bit of everything, watching a film here, listening to a podcast there… without ever looking at the real issue.

To recap this blog post, the real issue is that 1) you might not know what language learning means 2) you approach the matter with the wrong tools (such as high school learning). When you understand that you have to follow the guidance of you tutor, you will then be able to learn French quickly. It’s not you who is not “clever” it’s just that society (or “life”) never told people that there are different types of learning. The same way we don’t learn karate by watching Chuck Norris films, we also don’t learn a language by endorsing the role of a high school student.

Is it hard to implement this change? No it is not. It is just a much more active way of learning that requires rationalizing (understanding what we are doing) and practice (doing the exercises and speaking with the tutor)

On our OuiCommunicate platform you may find both the rationalizing and the practice. We have all the videos and all the worksheets a student could ever want to make your learning of French a reality.

So to recap one last time and for the sole purpose of your benefit:

Trying to apply a school-based method……will not work.
Believing that attending a class equals the learning……will not work.
Jumping ship and trying a bit of everything……will not work.
Listening to non-professionals for advice……will not work.
Not committing to real memorizing……will not work.
Hoping it falls into place……will not work.
Thinking that understanding and agreeing equals the learning……will not work.
Not rationalizing or applying critical understanding……will not work.
Not doing the work……will not work.

PS: We’re not awful people at OuiCommunicate we just want you to do well! This blog post is a bit severe perhaps, but we KNOW you can learn French.

Thanks for reading !

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