French in Action is a series of 52 videos aimed at the learner of French. It is written and presented by French teacher Pierre Capretz with WBGH Boston. They were made by the Annenberg Media people who make masses of free learning material for the masses. Yes free material. You cannot get much cheaper than that, and their material is of a very, very high standard. You can get a free download of this French language video course online from their website.
The French in Action series uses the immersion technique to teach French. In other words the movies are virtually all done in French and you are supposed to just listen in and absorb the French. I would recommend that you should actually learn some French before diving in and trying the French in Action series. They really suit someone who has intermediate to advanced French.
The lessons are built around a storyline of a young American man who meets a young French girl in Paris.
I think the French in Action videos are much better than the 52 video Destinos series made by the same Annenberg Media people. The Destinos videos are aimed at the learner of Spanish, and are also very good.
The reason that I think that the French in Action videos are better is that they take common everyday French conversational phrases like 'd'être pressé' and give you several shots of different situations which reflect the phrase being taught and reinforced. In other words the phrases are repeated many times, sometimes as many as 10 times or more, with a film clip of the verb in action, with many of the shots being of different scenarios of the same verb in action. They do the same in early lessons with words like bonjour, allo, comment allez vous, salut, au revoir and all the many common phrases that are covered, and that the student of French needs to learn. They also show the opposite phrase.
So they might show a girl in a hurry, in this case Mireille, the 'star' of the show who is in a hurry, and she and/or the commentator will use the phrase in different sentences like …
Actor: Je suis pressé ... - (I am in a hurry).
Elle est pressée…. (She is in a hurry)
Then they will show a quick video clip of Mireille ambling along and say:
Elle n'est pas pressée.(She is not in a hurry).
There is no translation, and the student learns by looking at the situation and figuring out what the guy is saying from the context of actions in the video.
The first part of the video lesson follows the story, and the second part reinforces the vocabulary, sentences, phrases and expressions. There are scenes which are repeated, then stopped to allow the student the chance to repeat the French words. These are very powerful learning units. Students can then use the audio units (previously cassettes) to reinforce the French they have learned. The accompanying textbook (not free) is used to reinforce the messages. Students with partners are advised to act out the scenes together. Imitating the gestures will increase and improve the learning experience and absorption of how to communicate in French using the gestures and facial expressions.
This same pattern and technique is used throughout the 52 videos.
In the Spanish language course Destinos this is not the case, they tend to NOT use sufficient repetitions to reinforce the phrases. Destinos tend to just run through the story, albeit a good story that does keep the viewer interested. The reviews at the end of each Destinos video are good but not as good as the French in Action ones. French in Action has better shots of the face as actors are talking - very important for the student. Destinos ones tend to be shot from further back.
Nevertheless before attempting such a course you should conquer the 2,000 most common words of French. This you can achieve with the 200 Words a Day French vocabulary courses, which will run you through the most common words of French in a week per course.
French Course 1 teaches you the first 1,000 words of French and course 2 teaches the next 1,000 most common words of French. These are taught with Memory Triggers, and can also be learnt with our French photoflashcards (e-Flashcardz).
I would recommend that you blitz through the vocabulary of the 200 Words a Day system, and learn the French TurboBoosters (4,000+ words that convert from English by tweaking them to make them into French words - history becomes histoire; victory - victoire; biology becomes biologie etc). There are over 40 families of these cognates or TurboBoosters and these can be learned in the exceltra French Grammar Slammer course and TurboBooster course. Professor Barcroft of Washington University and the author of studies in Second Language Acquisition argues that students should learn lots of vocabulary in the first stage of language learning. Learning vocabulary allows the student to form a bigger and more solid base onto which s/he can progress to grammar learning. He argues that one should not force learners into building sentences too early.
I would also encourage the student to learn to conjugate French verbs, learn how adjectives work and how adverbs work in French before embarking on the French in Action series. You will make quicker progress.
In the introduction to the course the producer even explains that for the first few weeks of the course the students are "… uncomfortable because so much French is thrown at them" and the students interviewed say the same thing.
This could be greatly reduced by getting them to spend the first 2 weeks just learning vocabulary and delaying the start to grammar learning and sentence building. But learning vocab with traditional techniques is not going to give the learner much of a base. However using the 200 Words a Day techniques will enable him/her to become familiar with a solid 2,000 words in 2 weeks for a good student, that puts in some steady applied effort.
What is a 2 week delay? Not much in the scheme of things, because it will actually make the French sentence building and French grammar learning task much easier. And you will be able to get into the swing of the 'total immersion' of the French in Action videos much, much quicker than someone who is being thrown in with no French at all.
Capretz says that they do not translate because French is French. Well that may be the case, but there are many thousands of situations which can be translated. A girl walking is a girl walking. A dog barking is a dog barking, so most material can be translated. By watching the videos you can get the nuances more, provided there a sufficient number of scenarios to convey the many different situations in which a word can be used.
Capretz says that you cannot just replace a French word with an English word. Well, in most cases you can! Capretz says that the student can figure it out through observation and deduction. I agree that s/he can, but this process is slower. If they have already learned the word or translation, they can REFINE its meanings by watching the French in Action type videos quicker than someone who does not know the word.
So to get more out of your free French in Action language course I would recommend you blast through the vocabulary of the 200 Words a Day system. Learn also the pronouns, the concepts of masculine and feminine, and also learn how to conjugate the verbs, and learn how to form adjectives and adverbs.
You will start your French in Action course quite a lot further ahead of someone with no French at all.
Overall an excellent course and an excellent learning resource. And can you believe it … it is free. Thank you Mr Annenberg!
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