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Moving from Assimil French with Ease through Using French to French Literature such as Marcel Proust

Dear Professor Arguelles,

I write to ask your advice about how to move from studying French with Assimil to really being able to read the likes of the works of Marcel Proust.

A Few “Real-World” Data Points
I have utilized your Assimil approach (Argüelles shadowing method with Assimil) with great success. I study for more than 15 minutes per day, probably in the order of hours, as French is my sole focus at the moment. Still, I think you will find the following mildly interesting:My period of experimentation was 60 days. 

I  was able to skip an entire semester worth of French at San Diego City College and enter at 102 as an honors candidate using only ASSIMIL and a few other techniques I’ve adapted from yourself and others (Krashen & Kauffman).

Based on an online test and my professor’s observation, I am on the cusp of low B1 across the board (using DALF). 

The older Assimil version seemed to better prepare me to interact with Moroccan speakers, whereas the more recent version seemed to help more with Parisians (although, interestingly, I have struggled with northern accents). 

I am captivated by the study of language and language learning and will be following your site closely. After law school, I thought I’d be done with formal educational programs for good. Nonetheless, I hope to study linguistics someday. 

Following is a bit of context about my materials and routine, and a few quick questions on your thoughts for “what’s next.” Please feel free to skim my long letter as I have emphasized my questions & priorities with highlights and underlining.

My Current Routine

I am currently working through the French With Ease program using an adaptation of your method (shadowing), although I do more than 15 minutes.

  • Today I am on leçon 45 (Quarante-cinquième – M. Duclos trouve son client).
  •  I also found a digital copy (with audio) of French Without Toil from 1972.
  •  I try to complete one lesson of With Ease and one supplementary lesson of Without Toil each day.

Next Steps & First Question

I am hoping to begin the more advanced Using French program once I finish the “passive phase” through lesson 113 in French with Ease and am thus no longer deriving new input from the program.

Until I saw your video I was thinking I would do the following:

  • One daily lesson with traditional shadowing method in Using French
  • One “active review,” of a lesson in French with Ease
  • Possibly one “active review,” of a lesson French without toil

Since I am only studying French and don’t have significant time constraints, I should be able to work my way through Using French sequentially as I have done with French with Ease, despite your recommendations otherwise. I understood your apprehensions & critiques to be based upon your 15-minute goal combined with the structure of Using French allowing for non-sequential study. If this is the case, assuming I utilize supplementary materials for grammar, etc., I should not be hurting my language acquisition by maintaining the beauty and allure of Assimil’s sequential and consistent nature. 

Question: I watched your video twice- and it seems like my plan to continue on with Using French would involve a conscious choice to sacrifice some efficiency/time for order/systematics. Assuming I’m ok with this, does the above routine look satisfactory? Please note – this question is purely about my daily Assimil, as you’re probably the world’s foremost Assimil expert (I feel so lucky to be able to message you).  I have supplementary materials, mentioned below, which will lead into my second and third questions.

I wanted to use Assimil to build a quick backbone in French and I believe I have achieved this. I can now utilize some more advanced learning materials outside of Assimil. A core pillar of my study will continue to focus on french/english accompanying text and audio shadowing, although with materials I choose and am interested in. 

I ordered the first volume of Marcel Proust’s – À la recherche du temps perdu with accompanying French Audio. I should be able to repeat the same Arguelles/Assimil process but with a book that I am extremely fond of, with lots of input. Professor, what do you think will be the optimal process for me to maximize my learning through this method? 

Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (Dual-Language Book) Routine

1. Read one page in English, no audio

2. Listen to corresponding French Audio, Shadowing in French

3. Read page in English while listening to French audio and shadowing French

4. Read French with French Audio and shadowing

5. Read page (no audio) scanning between English/French to notate and “actually learn”

Grammaire Progressive Series, other volumes:

Professor, What do you think of the other books in the series? I was given digital copies of Communication, Vocabulaire, Literature, Orthographe and Photetique. I have not been using the Grammaire Progressive workbook too much as I wanted to learn grammar through reading and speaking.

In Conclusion

Thank you so much for your time. Like many others, I am an Argüelles acolyte, and I spread the word of your methods throughout the communities with whom I interact. I do treat your word like gold and my results have been nothing short of amazing. I hope to build French as my linguistic foundation, close to my native tongue, simply because I have such a strong predilection for and endless interest in the language and literary/philosophical culture. 


-Jack J. Fernandes, Esq.

My reply:

Dear Mr. Fernandes,

Thank you for much for your detailed letter, and thank you for your kind words of trust in the methodology that I myself have used and am pleased to share with the world, especially knowing that it finds receptive people like yourself who can profit from it. On that note, congratulations to you on what you have achieved already, being able to skip semesters and place into honors programs based on autodidactic study using Assimil methods as I have described doing in the past!

Reading through your letter, I fear that my recent videos on using Assimil 15 minutes a day or in 15 minute chunks might have disturbed your current routine. Based on what you have achieved, the way you are studying and learning is clearly learning going quite well for you, so there is no need to change anything. Reading between the lines, it seems you may be thinking that I am advising only doing 15 minutes a day for all – this is not so. These videos were made for those who do have time constraints and are just getting into studying, though I thought that in them I clearly said that the more advanced you get, the more you will need and (hopefully) want to study. Given that you have no particular time constraints and are able to devote more time to your studies than this, there is no need for you to alter what you are doing to match the system I show in these videos. You do not say just how much time you are able to devote to your French language studies each day, but only that it is more than 15 minutes, so I do think that you would profit from breaking, say, 30 minutes a day into two 15 minute chunks, one morning, one evening, or at least taking a stand up and stretch out break between two back to back 15 minute sessions.

Your plan to use multiple generations of Assimil volumes is certainly very well founded. After you have done one, you will be able to go through another more swiftly, but there will be reinforcement, review and rearticulation of grammatical points, and new vocabulary. And certainly you may use Using French exactly as you use French with Ease and French Without Toil – after, that is, you have gone through these two generations. Just to clarify, I was not suggesting that one use Using French non-sequentially, but merely mentioning that one might go first to lessons that were of greater interest if one so desired. Also, by the time you have studied multiple generations of first-level Assimil volumes, and shadowed their audio, your ear should be tuned enough to the language that you might not need to keep the audio of each lesson anchored to the text, and there is value in cycling through the audio one way and the text in another, as I suggest in the video. But again, you can certainly work through the intermediate volume just as you do the beginning one.

I think it is wonderful that you aspire to do all this in order to read Marcel Proust! As you indicate that À la recherche du temps perdu in English translation is one of your favorite books, surely you know that as the sentences in this work are exceptionally long and the descriptions are extremely rich in detail, Proust’s style is just about as difficult as they come in French. Therefore, I think that reading him should be your ultimate goal, but not your immediate goal right after completing Assimil volumes. Your plan to work through the first volume using the material that you have sounds fine, but I think you will find the process easier and more rewarding if you develop your vocabulary more widely first be reading some short stories and then some shorter novels first. As I just wrote, your plan for the volume sounds fine in principle, but let us revisit it when you get to that point as there may be other approaches that will better suit you then.

Finally, regarding the Grammaire Progressive series – I do not have a copy in hand, but it looks to be quite like (perhaps an updated version) of the advanced grammar book I show in the second video (perhaps by a different publisher now). These books are excellent if you enjoy making your knowledge of grammar explicit, but if you find that you can learn it just as well intuitively by reading and speaking, then there is no particular need to work through them systematically, though if you find that you have irritating weak points that you would like to work on, they can be helpful for that.

I hope this was helpful for now and I look forward to staying in touch with you and helping your get to that goal of reading Proust in French – with pleasure, enjoyment, ease, and understanding.

With all best regards for success in all of your studying and learning,

Alexander Arguelles

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My name is Alexander Arguelles. I have pursued foreign languages and literatures with a passion all my life. My goal is to share the knowledge and experience I have gained with others who would like to do the same. Find out more →

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