I’m going to Montreal in March and I want to speak French

Moi: I’m going to Montreal and I want to speak French.

The Intern: What does that even mean, the second part? Do you want to order food in French and generally discuss the weather?

Or do you want to conduct an international human rights campaign complete with spontanous rousing speeches at public rallies and arguing in heated debate on television?

Or do you want to fluently utter “C‘est la vie!” in every moment of every situation, and to answer every question which could possibly arise with a cryptic but very fluent “C‘est possible!“?

Moi: Well seeing as I’m what’s known as a “false beginner,” and can barely string a few words together correctly in French, I’ll have to opt for the following fluencies:

  1. Order food in French
  2. Conduct basic shopping in French
  3. Ask for and understand basic directions in French
  4. Chat about the weather in French
  5.  Make basic small talk in French: where are you from, etc.

montreal flag and logo

The Intern: So you have less than three months. Are you going try the Fluency In Three Months thing?

Moi: Pas du tout. Not at all. How can I, when that method is “Go to a foreign country and immerse yourself totally in the language for three months, along with some other tactics”? That’s not practical for me, or 99% of other people.

The intern: So what, then? What will you do? Nothing else in the world is supposed to work, for learning languages.

Moi: You mean, nothing else on Earth is supposed to work for becoming fluent in three months.

The Intern: Well do you plan to become fluent in three months?

Moi: I do. Fluent in those five areas: restaurant and bar, basic shopping, basic directions, the weather, and basic small talk.

The Intern: How are  you even defining fluency?

Moi: Fluency means speaking fast and flexibly, without depending on a dictionary, etc. Not getting stopped or frozen out by lack of vocab. It doesn’t mean my vocabulary must be huge. It means only that I know how to work around limitations in my vocabulary. And know how to change the subject, or re-direct a conversation back to where I know how to participate.

The Intern: How to plan to do that? How do you plan to become fluent in restaurant and bar communications, basic shopping, and so on?

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Moi: I’ll use two resources:

  1. Frenchpod101.com
  2. Anki

The Intern: Why those?

Moi: Frenchpod101.com because it’s the best and most reasonably priced language learning resource I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean the best for the money. I mean it is the best. And it is one of the least expensive. (Most new subscribers can get a premium subscription for $99.)

The Intern: And why Anki?

Moi. Anki is a spaced-repetition flash card program for your computer (and there’s an app for your phone, too). The computer program is free, for some reason. The phone app is $25 the last time I checked. It’s absolutely the best piece of technology ever invented for learning any content. This isn’t the place to go into all the details. Just google “why is spaced repetition Anki so effective”, and you’ll see.

The Intern: How will you use Frenchpod101.com?

Moi: I’m a false beginner, I’m middle-aged, and my memory is average. So I’ll start with the survival phrases and the Absolute Beginner lessons. Here’s an image because people like images.

Dashboard image of frenchpod101














The Intern: But how, exactly, will  you use Frenchpod101.com to become fluent in three months in the five areas you want? In restaurant and bar French, in shopping, basic directions, the weather, and basic small talk?

Moi: A video is worth a thousand words. I’ll post some videos showing how I use it. Essentially this:

  1. I’ll focus on the “Review Tracks,” and on the vocabulary.
  2. I’ll essentially memorize the “Review Tracks”.
  3. I’ll absolutely memorize all the vocabulary, using Frenchpod101.com’s amazing spaced repetition flash card module.
  4. I’ll search for lessons and vocabulary that pertain specifically to restaurant and bar French, shopping, basic directions, the weather, and basic small talk.
  5. I’ll speak aloud the French I’m learning, every free moment of every day.
  6. I’ll find some French speaking people online and Skype with them. I’ve had a lot of success in the past finding pleasant and committed language exchange partners at iTalki.com.

The Intern: You mention Frenchpod101.com‘s spaced repetition flash cards. You’re going to use them. Why would you also use Anki, the free / open-source spaced repetition flash card system?

Moi: Well, because Frenchpod101.com‘s spaced repetition flash card system is just for vocabulary, while Anki is completely customizable. You can put anything you want into Anki flash cards — vocabulary, grammatical patterns, whole sentences, anything.

The Intern: I see. So, how will you use Anki to become fluent in French in three months.

Moi: I’ll use it in the following ways:

  1. I’ll add vocabulary I want which isn’t in the Frenchpod101.com flash card set.
  2. I’ll add survival phrases.
  3. I’ll add grammatical notes, constructions, sentences, basically whatever I want to remember for Montreal, or about Montreal. Anything at all. I mean anything  can be added to an Anki flash card. The Anki flash card will quite literally program your brain with the content it contains.
  4. I’ll study these flash cards every free minute of every day, either at my computer or on my iPhone. (There’s an Android app too.)

Here’s the Anki computer program. It’s free:


Here’s the Anki iPhone app. (It’s $24.99 and very well worth it.)


Here’s the Anki Android app. (It’s free.):


The Intern: Lounging about the plush offices of FluencyForIntroverts.com, the headquarters which overlook San Francisco Bay, The Grand Tetons National Park, and Boston Harbor all at once, you’ve rambled about creating a Grand Strategy for Fluency in a Given Situation. Are you using one for this trip to Montreal?

Moi: I’m glad you brought up the idea of a Grand Strategy for Fluency in a Given Situation. It’s so important. It may the the most important contribution I’ll make to language learning for introverts (or for self-aware extraverts). Nothing is more important than having a strategy, a flow chart, in mind. Something you can refer to when the conversation veers into unmapped territory (meaning, territory in which you have no vocabulary, or in which the grammar is suddenly a thicket of barbed wire).

The Intern: Why is having a grand strategy for fluency in a given situation … so important?

Moi: It’s important because otherwise, you’ll be pulled into situations in which you’re a silent bystander. We must face the facts that the FluencyIn3Months crowd are quite unrealistic dreamers. You can’t become fluent over a broad range of topics in three months. You CAN become fluent in specific areas in three months. The Grand Strategy gives you a set of tactics for moving the conversation right back to where you have the vocabulary (and the interest).

The Intern: So, what’s your Grand Strategy for the Montreal trip? For conversations you plan to have on the Montreal trip?

Moi: Such a strategy takes time to complete. I’m working on it. But I’ll give a few teasers:

  1. It will give you a way to fluently and sociably keep the conversation in areas for which you have the vocabulary and grammar skills.
  2. It will be very natural. A native speaker would use many of the strategies in many situations.
  3. It will prevent you, in most cases, from ever finding yourself isolated, a bystander, unable to keep up, in a French conversation.
  4. It’ll teach you easy and natural “opening lines” and “exit lines” for any situation, so you’re smooth, you can find willing conversation partners, and be able to escape from a conversation when you’re done with it.

The Intern: When will it be ready?

Moi: Within a week or so.

The Intern: And please tell me you’re not going to charge money for it?

Moi: Not at all. It’ll be absolutely free. I’m here to blog, because I’m a language teacher and a language learner. I’m here to teach language-learning and learn language-learning. I’m here especially to show introverts how language-learning works for me.

The Intern: Are you an introvert or an extravert?

Moi: Introvert. I get energy from the inner world, so to speak, not so much from the social world. But I’m outgoing. I find it easy to meet people.

The Intern: So, and I have to ask this, since you mention it all the time, you’re here to play Devil’s advocate, against the FluencyIn3Months crowds?

Moi: You’re exactly right. FluencyIn3Months methods work fine. But they work fine only for people for whom they work fine. It should go without saying. But it doesn’t go without saying. It has to be said, and it has to be said loudly and often: Most people can’t learn any language skills with the FluencyIn3Months model. The reasons are:

  1.  It requires living in a foreign land.
  2. It requires completely immersing oneself in a foreign language.
  3. It requires you to go out and wear a funny hat and talk to random people constantly.
  4. Most people don’t have the time or money or inclination to do these things.

There must be a better way. There must be a better way especially for introverts, and even for self-aware extraverts who don’t have the time or inclination to move to a foreign country and go out constantly talking to random people.

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