When I was in elementary school, we had a new boy in school who had moved to the U.S. from the Soviet Union. He spoke five languages. "Wow," I thought, "one day I want to speak five languages." When we finally got to learn a foreign language in school, I picked French for the not very deep reason that a cute boy also picked French. I did well enough in school, but I found out as an adult that I suffered from the classic case of being able to read and write but not being able to speak. Worst of all was understanding the spoken language when a native speaker spoke at a normal speed. This was before the internet and simply getting enough "input" without living in a foreign country was nearly impossible.
Eventually, I married a Francophone and moved to Quebec. A few years later, I got divorced and returned to the U.S. Whenever someone asks how good my French is, I never know what to say. To say "fluent" feels like I'm exaggerating, especially since it was so hard for me to learn. I feel like I've been learning and forgetting French in alternating waves.
Back when I still had a t.v., I would watch the news in French when the reception came in well enough to not drive me nuts. Unfortunately, most of the time I couldn't watch it. For a time, one of the radio stations in New York carried a French language news program. Still, these were fairly limited opportunities to hear French and I had to schedule my life around them. This is one area in which the internet has really helped.
Most people here can pobably find things like Radio France on their own. For people who like listening and watching things in French, I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite programs with which most Americans are unfamiliar. It's a science magazine program from Canada called Les années lumière. Personally, I prefer radio programs to television programs because I can listen while doing boring things like exercising or cleaning.
Radio Canada, which has both television and radio programs, generally airs fairly high quailty programs and is worth checking out. Another enjoyable science oriented show, this time with video is, Découverte.
Here's an example from a year ago on a subject I know will interest many people here, shale gas.
I'm something of a cranky and unconventional francophile. While I've always enjoyed myself immensely when I've been in France, the all the French clichés that most francophiles seem to love make me cringe. Enjoying French language materials from the rest of la Francophonie has been one way for me to deepen my knowledge of French with out having to suffer boring nonsense about romance or fashion.
What do you do to keep up your knowledge of a foreign language?
While I was gathering the links for this diary, I happened upon an interesting article about bees. It seems that the bites of domestic bees contain a natural anesthetic, like that of spiders. Bees bite invaders of their hives which are too small to sting, like Varroa mites and wax moths. Temporarily paralysed, the bees can eject them from their hive. Researchers believe that the anesthetic, 2-heptanone (2-H), may have application for human medicine.