15 August 2012

MERCI Method Part 2: Master the Vocabulary

 "Merci" in French means "thank you", but here at Katie's Language Cafe, MERCI also stands as the acronym for our own unique method for second language acquisition:

In part one, we introduced the MERCI method of second language acquisition (trademark pending)...

M-Master the vocabulary
E-Explore the culture
R-Remember the rules
C-Communicate often
I-Immerse in the Language

                                      Lucky for us, the French language has alot of cognates,
                                                              about 1,700 to be exact!

The first step is Mastering the Vocabulary.  My experience in foreign countries with regard to not being understood was my inability to communicate my message did not come from a bad accent or poor pronunciation, but from a lack of knowing the right words I needed. Vocabulary is necessary for labeling, requesting, ordering food...communicating ANYTHING.

Mastering vocabulary takes effort and practice but it need not be cumbersome. If you approach foreign language learning like cramming for an exam, you will not be successful; not long term anyway. A little every day is better than a lot right before its needed. I try to put at least 30 min a day into my language learning, with 15 of this being vocabulary study. When I started doing this, instead of studying for a few hours the day before class time or tests, my conversational abilities grew exponentially!

There are alot of ways to learn vocabulary...the way that works best for you will depend alot upon what kind of learner you are (auditory, visual, hands-on, etc).

Here are a few ideas for you to try...

*study vocabulary in theme units (food, clothing, greetings, etc) practice writing them down and saying them aloud, like studying for a test

*label everything in your house with small sticky notes with the french label and also coordinating functional phrases. Practice these throughout the day. For example, the refrigerator may have the french word for refrigerator on it, but also a sticky that has (in French) "I'm hungry" or "I'm thirsty".

*Commit to spending some time each day on a language program like Rosetta Stone or Real Language Right Away.

*Notecards; write out the vocabulary~~the French on one side, the English on the other and carry in your purse or bag to have on hand to study during down times, waiting times, etc.

*Purchase and Download at least one French word book on your e-reader (Nook, Kindle, etc)

* Purchase at least one familiar book/story (can be simple like the Runaway Bunny or more complex, like Harry Potter) in French and read it. If it is a familiar story, you will be able to glean much vocabulary in addition to building fluency.  

I am a visual learner, and mnemonics are one way I have found helps me remember lots of new information. I purchased and tried out the 200 French words a day program that helps you not only learn the noun/label for a word via a picture but also the gender of the noun (French nouns are male or female) at the same time. I enjoy going through this program a few times a week...the funny graphics seem to work to help me remember not only the vocabulary but also to learn at the same time if it is male or female.

Everyone learns in different ways, what is important is not the "how" but the "when".  Everyone, even practically every non-French speaker, can tell you that hello is "Bonjour". Why? because they've heard it off and on their whole lives. It has become familiar. To learn a foreign language, you must commit yourself to familiarizing yourself with as much of the vocabulary as you can, best done by spending a little time each day in this practice.

Do you have other tips for learning vocabulary? Please share them in the comments!


  1. I have made an excel sheet. I insert as many words as I know. With each new word I learn I add it to my list. Excel will even count how many words I know. I can color code those that I am comfortable with and those that I know, but that need work on the pronunciation. I made flash cards for short phases. Also, I search French influence blogs that have the same interest as I do. They will usually give some reference or useful info. Someone like David Lebovitz who moved to France. He tells us how to move through France with out insulting anyone or ordering the food that we want instead of what we think the menu says. With that said I am still working on it.

  2. I just found you via Facebook! I was having a difficult time finding a program for my little ones and I realize after just reading this post that we don't need to start off with a formal curriculum. Just using French every day and labeling things around our home to get the vocab is so important; we can worry about grammar later once my children understand English grammar. (Starting to homeschool my PreK, Kindergarten and 2nd grader).

  3. Good luck with your studies and language acquisition. I studied French all through high school and in my first year of university. When my bilingual son speaks to me in French, I can only understand some of what he says. I've lost my edge! And that is not good in a bilingual country! Every blessing, Kelly


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