One often hears comments like this: I took four years of French and made good grades but when I got to France I couldn’t understand anything. Fortunately, this is usually taken as an indictment of the teaching methods. That may be half true.
The methodology focusing on vocabulary memorization and the analysis of verb forms known as “conjugating verbs” leads to just such an outcome. The student has little to no ability to negotiate meaning with a French person.
But there is another issue with French in particular and it has been addressed in an article —–
The issue is the split between commonly spoken French and formal written French. The gap is very wide although it is sometimes exaggerated. Most or all of my information about colloquial French comes from Rodney Ball’s Colloquial French. The title is a bit misleading b/c the book is written from a linguistic viewpoint and many standard pedagogical grammars carry the title “colloquial” or “modern”.
While such language variations are of great interest to me, they have taken on an urgent tone since I am teaching my granddaughter French. Her performance today astounded me. Nevertheless, every time I open my mouth I am aware of some feature of syntax, grammar, pronunciation or vocabulary I feel unsure of. Ball lists among several good standard French grammars in English the one I purchased based on a review on Amazon. I have been poring over the book and find it utterly fascinating. One thing I realize: some of my “acquired” features of French (using acquired in the Krashenian sense) seem to be “francais populaire”. While I cannot adequately distinguish formal from informal or colloquial forms of French except for obvious ones like deleting ‘ne’ in the ‘ne…. pas’ construction, what I am teaching my granddaughter seems like it will float anywhere.