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I’ve studied some French with Anki in slow motion for a while. About two months ago I started doing it MassImmersionApproach-style, and am now advancing much faster (the lockdown helps). In this post, I’ll show you my framework, namely the tools, workflows, and of course, resources, I use.
, well, it goes without saying. Anki is the workhorse that builds the scaffolding which is then reinforced and strengthened by immersion. I like to think of it in terms of underwater structures that accumulate clams, algae, etc. over time, as they are immersed in the sea. It takes time for the organic structures to build, but with a "seed"-structure to kickstart it, it goes much faster. I use „Basic with Reverse“ cards for everything. Only sentence cards are allowed, word to word translations are absolutely forbidden! Typical sentence card in Anki. Alfred
is the second most important tool for me. It’s a macOS app like the built-in spotlight, with the added benefit of being able to add additional sources to be searched. Its task is to make manual card creation much faster. I use it to quickly search online dictionaries, do a context search or run online translations. Using Alfred to quickly search different dictionaries. Larousse.fr
is my most used dictionary, ever since I started using french-to-french cards exclusively. It oftentimes has good examples and contains almost everything that I look for. Reverso Context
is used if Larousse doesn’t have an example or only a bad example. I usually only use the french sentence, but if I don’t find a good explication in french, I sometimes use their bilingual translations. Dict.cc
for symbolic images or to clarify the meaning of a word, if the Larousse definition is too vague. YouGlish
is just used sparingly to find real-world pronunciations if I’m not sure about a certain word. Anki has a built-in Text-To-Speech feature since 2.1.20 which works like a charm as well. Definitely use that!
Before I went monolingual, I used DeepL
a lot to translate sentences or expressions that were unclear to me. It has become much less important over time though.
I watch my series without subtitles now and thus also only rarely extract vocabulary from them. Sometimes an expression jumps out at me, then I turn the subtitles on and make a card. However, the vast
majority of vocabulary comes from books. As Stephen Krashen has said in the latest video with Matt, „the secret is pleasure reading“. I can confirm.
Starting with a book is a lot of frustrating work but absolutely worth it. It increases your vocabulary super quickly, see the screenshot. And the good (or bad) thing is, that a genre of books usually has a specific vocabulary. For example sword, dagger, scarlet, land, jump, etc. are all words that are shared in different fantasy stories. This means you can chip away at the giant rock that is the foreign language, one genre at a time. Vocab card growth thanks to reading books. Compare to the actual course I had in the beginning...
In the beginning, I looked up most words directly, as I couldn’t advance otherwise. Especially since you need to have a grasp of the passé simple for reading. Now, after a handful of small books, it has taken a more asynchronous turn. I usually keep a notepad next to me when I’m reading, and whenever I feel like I’m not sure about a word, or it just jumps out to me, I write it down and continue reading. The notepad I use is pretty small and thus prevents me from making unmanageable chunks. Small notepad means few words, means can-be-done-quickly. So every now and then I take one of my pages from the notepad and ankify it. Small notepad I use while reading to note down interesting words/expressions.
To ankify the words/expressions, I usually start with Larousse. I simply type "rou XYZ" in my Alfred search, and voilà, the Larousse entry is opened in Safari. I then copy that to Anki: the definition on one side and an example sentence on the other. I underline the target word in the sentence. The example sentence is either directly the one from Larousse, or if that one sucks, one from Reverso Context. Sometimes, I also directly take an entire sentence from the book itself.
Reviewing the Cards
I review my cards every morning after getting up while having a coffee. I usually read the card's contents out loud and then try to explain them in french. This takes me around 12s/card. But the amount of vocabulary is still manageable, thanks to changing the „steps“ in Anki to „15 1440“, which is often recommended. This way new cards immediately get out of your way, and I still have a good 85 - 90% true retention rate.
As mentioned above, they do the heavy lifting in terms of vocabulary. I can’t overstate their impact: Read! I'm mostly reading kids and young adult series at the moment, and honestly, I wonder why I ever stopped reading them; Heroes-Journey-type stories of self-development - fantastic! Notably „Le Pacte des Marchombres“ - Wonderful.
- Pacte des Marchombres (Trilogy)
- La quête d’Ewilan (Trilogy)
- Phobos (Tetralogy)
Series are the main resource in terms of active listening. I’ve listed my favorites below, from easiest to understand to hardest to understand. The Non-French Netflix Originals have really good french dubs, and the french originals often have the „audio description“ channel which is fantastic! Other than Netflix, ARTE also has interesting shows (e.g. Moloch).
- Ladybug et Chat Noire
- Money Heist
- Sex Education
- Plan Coeur
- Family Business
- Moloch (Audio-description)
- Dix Pour Cent / Call my Agent
I have yet to find an interesting podcast in french. The only thing that I’m listening to often is France Culture. Notably their „LSD - La Série Documentaire“, which is often very interesting and has a great app.
And finally YouTubers. Also here I haven’t found anything really exciting yet. However, the following channels are kind of entertaining sometimes:
So that’s the way I’m working on my french at the moment. See my MIA_French post
for a look into my immersion table. In the end, what counts, is to make it work for you. Adapt everything as to be most effective to you. Thanks Matt for making and popularizing the MIA approach!