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A native English speaker who I follow on twitter, who's speaking (in English) at a programming conference in Paris tweeted

What's the best way to learn a tiny bit of French in a week? A week in which I already have no spare time?

I don't know what he's looking for, but this is what I'd want to know if I was in his situation.

What should I try learning if I have a limited amount of time? Vocabulary? Grammar? Phrases? Knowing how to pronounce a word that I've read? What kind of things would take not much time to learn, but would bring the most benefit?

What kind of tools are useful in reaching these objectives? To avoid this question becoming too large, I'm more after categories, rather than specific products. For example "Phrasebooks are useful for someone with not much time because ...", rather than "Brand X phrasebook is good because ...".

I had a look at Are there good tools for learning to speak French? and Free online resources for beginner course , but while there's a variety of answers, none seem to be targeted at such a scenario.

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How long would you intend to stay? What areas would you want to be covered? IMHO, if you have very limited time, you should spend it looking for a phrasebook that will cover your needs, rather than try to learn any French at all. –  Alexis Pigeon Apr 29 '13 at 13:37
    
Hey Andrew! I remember you from JL&U before I decided to switch to Mandarin owing to comparably greater applicability/usefulness in the U.S. –  Aerovistae May 1 '13 at 6:28
    
@Aerovistae I remember you too! I'm glad to hear that you switched languages - I was worried you left JLU because of problems with the community! –  Andrew Grimm May 1 '13 at 6:31
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Oh no, that all straightened out. You guys were quite helpful in the end. It was strictly a question of applicability. Anyway, with regard to your question, I think the amount of French that could be learned in such a limited time would be of such little use that the learner would be better served studying a few tourist maps instead-- something where the rate of Useful Knowledge per Minute is much, much higher, as opposed to starting and then immediately dropping a new language. –  Aerovistae May 1 '13 at 6:33

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Having lived in France for a few years, I myself spoke well enough to live there happily, play for a local football team, run a business and have French friends. My partner at the time however did not. She only had a very limited French vocabulary and had no idea how to string a sentence together.

You say me where bakery. Bakery where? Where is the bakery? Hello, can you please tell me where the nearest bakery is?

All of these are understandable to us, but she would tend to use something like. "Excusez-moi, la patisserie, oú?" - She would get a load of French thrown at her, but she'd pick out simple things like, numbers, hand signals and directions. She would end up at the bakery.

I advise, learn a lot of words, like a reply you have received above, learn the most common words, which tend to sound very similar to English anyway.

Don't be afraid to say something wrong, anything is better than shouting in English.

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For a native English speaker with no previous French experience and limited time, I would recommend dividing one's efforts between reading a phrasebook, for vocabulary, and using Duolingo, for general familiarity with the language, its grammar and its constructs.

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I just found a study on the internet saying that by knowing the 1000 most frequent words in English, you are able to understand 84.3% of a conversation. It might be a little bit less for french, but anyway, with your first 1000 words you will known already a lot!

I've seen on the internet some videos and pages with lists of the most frequent words, which you might like to use. And I recommend to learn also the rule for conjugation of the regular verbs and of the most frequent irregular verbs (auxiliaries).

The methods I'm using now for learning languages is the method which Ramon Campayo described in his books, and in which he shows how to learn a language in only 7 days. He gives some lists of the most important words, divided in different categories to make it easier to memorize. Also he describes how to memorize the words by using mnemonics. For him words along with only a very basic grammar is enough to understand and communicate in another language. We can also understand Tarzan, although he speaks without conjugating his verbs and does not use complicated constructions for his sentences.

His book is: "Aprender un Idioma en 7 días" (Unfortunately I can only find it in Spanish, but maybe his book "Aprende Inglés en 7 días" might serve you).

After learning the words you are able to understand and communicate, so you can easily practice with native french speakers and understand webpages etc. Then, finally, when you have time left a lot of interesting grammar is waiting for you :)

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Well if your friend have extra time on the way to work or whatever I suggest using Rosetta Stones French series, he can have it on his cellphone too, and basically its not so much about grammar since its quite hard for beginners to learn.

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