Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:June 4th, 2011 14:25 EST
Duo of Books Simplifies Learning both English and French

Duo of Books Simplifies Learning both English and French

By Philip Yaffe (Mentor/Columnist)

An excellent aid forlearning another language is to see how native speakers of that language think about yours. Another is to think about the language the way the native speakers do rather than how grammarians divide and describe it for other grammarians. 

These are the two premise sthat underlie a duo of new self-instructional books titled Actual English: English Grammar as Native Speakers Really Use It and Gentle French: French Grammar as Native Speakers Really Use It.  

Actual English isspecifically designed for French speakers learning English; Gentle French is specifically designed for English speakers learning French.However taken together, they can help speakers of either language more easily learn the other, " says author Philip A. Yaffe. 

Philip Yaffe is a formerwriter with The Wall Street Journal and an international marketing communication consultant living in Brussels, Belgium. 

"Like most Americans, I grewup speaking only English and never expected to speak anything else. I have nowbecome fluent in two languages (French, Swahili) and have a working knowledge of several others (Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish), largely thanks to discovering and applying these two fundamental pedagogical principles," Mr.Yaffe says. 

"Learning another language will never be easy, but it can be made significantly less difficult by adoptingthe correct psychological approach," he adds.  

In particular, for Anglophones(English speakers) learning French and Francophones (French speakers) learningEnglish, he recommends the following sequence of events:

1. Basic grammar the minimum necessary to put together an intelligible (if incorrect) sentence

2. Basic vocabulary the minimum necessary to begin usingthe basic grammar

3. Elaborated grammar and vocabulary building on basic grammar and vocabulary as soon as you can actually use them

4. Writing tackling the daunting task of puttingthe language on paper. 

"The fact is, the secret oflearning a language is not grammar. It`s vocabulary," Mr. Yaffe asserts. If you don`tknow the verb you need, it doesn`t matter that you know how to conjugate verbs;you still cannot speak. If you don`t know the adjective you need, it doesn`tmatter that you know how to decline French adjectives; you still cannot speak.And so on. 

Ifyou can rapidly lay down basic grammar, then concentrate on rapidly building a functional vocabulary, you are likely to achieve competence (if not fluency) much more rapidly than if you try to do both at the same time. 

"Another secret to rapidly acquiring another language is to concentrate on its simplicities rather than its complexities," he says.  

"However difficult a language may look, there are bound to be aspects of it that are easier than the equivalents in your native language. This is especially true of English and French. This is why Gentle French includes a section titled," Seven Ways French Is Easier than English.  

Perhaps some what surprisingly, he claims that French pronunciation is easier than English pronunciation because it has no tonic accent. 

Tonic accent simply means that certain syllables in a word are given more stress than are others. For example, in English we say un-i-VER-sal, with stress on the third syllable. In French, this is un-i-ver-sel, with no apparent stress anywhere. Likewise with REST-au-rant, this time with stress on the first syllable. In French this is simply rest-au-rant.And so on. Thus, you never make a mistake.   

If you are a native Anglophone, you have grown up with the tonic accent, so you might not immediately appreciate what a blessing this is. But imagine the difficulty faced by a Francophone learning English and you quickly will. 

The two books are self-contained, so each one can be read without reference to theother. However, Mr. Yaffe suggests that they could be used symbiotically.  

"First read the book about the language you are trying to learn, then read the book about your own language. The insights you will gain from this two-way process should make learning the language you are interested in significantly easier. It might even teach you some important things about your own language, as well,"  he concludes.  

Philip A. Yaffe was born in Boston in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles. In 1965 he graduated in mathematics from UCLA (University of California, Los  Angeles), wherehe was also editor-in-chief of the DailyBruin, the daily student newspaper. 

Mr. Yaffe has more than 40years of experience in journalism and marketing communication. At variouspoints in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/featurewriter with The Wall Street Journal,an account executive with a major international press relations agency,European marketing communication director with two major internationalcompanies, and a founding partner of a marketing communication agency in near Brussels,Belgium, where he has lived since 1974.  

He is author of sixself-help books available in digital format. In addition to Actual English and Gentle French, his other books are: 

● The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional 

● The Gettysburg Collection

Acomprehensive companion to The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional 

● What`d You Say? / Que Dites-Vous?

Fun with homophones, proverbs, expressions, falsefriends, and other linguistic oddities in English and French 

● The Little Book of BIG Mistakes

Things we know " that just aren`t so.