See, me and the main character of this book series-turned-movie have a special bond - she helps me practice French.
Please don't laugh, but I've found the best way for me to practice French is to read French editions of cheesy chick lit novels, and L'accro de shopping dit oui (Shopaholic Ties the Knot) was the first full French novel I ever read. It happened to be the third book in the series, but in a series of books about a girl that shops too much, it doesn't really spoil the thrilling plot to work backwards. I was amazed when I understood it and finished all 300-some pages of it!
It makes sense - when you first began reading, you stuck to simplistic books with easy to understand plot lines. Even if you were unsure of the meaning of a word, you could guess through pictures and context clues, and gradually learn more and more vocabulary. My simplistic books just happen to be chick lit.
When I started L'accro de shopping dit oui, reading in French finally clicked. In college I took so many French Literature classes, and reading even excerpts of classic French novels made me want to rip my hair out. I couldn't understand the archaic language, I would get bored from working so hard to comprehend it, and I would fall asleep. Or I would attempt to skim and understand the story through my intuition and street smarts, only to fail miserably during the class discussions the next day.
Reading comprehension of a foreign language is one of the quickest things you pick up, and one the skills you tend to retain the longest - but if you hate what you're reading and the language isn't modern, it won't help you in day-to-day life if you ever visit that country. I learned so many commonly used phrases and new vocabulary from reading the French Shopaholic series. How to say 'blow dryer' in French? Learned it from Becky Bloomwood!!
We're so secluded over here in North America and I feel like foreign language and international travel are often pushed to the back burner. Our schools generally don't begin teaching foreign languages until high school, roughly two thirds of the population has never gotten a passport (about 200 million people - via nodebtworldtravel.com), and we don't have easy access (aka cheap puddle jumpers and trains) to as many foreign countries as Europeans do. So unfair.
While we can't change the location of our country, I do wish we could change our attitude about the importance of other languages and cultures. Even though French isn't the most useful foreign language to know (Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin anyone?), I realized when I first set foot in Charles de Gaulle Airport that there's a whole other world out there where those vocabulary and reading comprehension lessons suddenly mattered.
When it comes to language - the way we communicate just about everything in life, full of nuances, slang, dialects, changing vocabulary and difficult grammar (where there's an exception to every rule) - you need to practice daily. I've always had such a strong desire to "get it" when it came to the French language, but I realize now after all those classes and my 2 month immersion escape in '08 that gripping the ins and outs of French will always be a challenge and every little bit helps.
Entertainment is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to maintain language skills but I wish things like this were more accessible in the US. At FNAC shops in Paris (a French version of Barnes & Noble), you could buy English or French translations of most popular books. I stocked up on the Gossip Girl series in French, the Shopaholic series and some books by Marc Levy (a well-known French author that's supposed to be easier to read). Here it's a lot harder to find popular novels in foreign language editions (it's all mostly textbooks and classics - blahh). You can try ordering books through Amazon.fr (or whatever other country you're interested in), but navigating the site in another language and with foreign currency can be complicated. I also recently found this site, French Bookworld where I saw French editions of Harry Potter and other recognizable titles.
If you're not a huge reader, watching DVDs with the foreign subtitles is also interesting. Anchorman with French subtitles is pretty hilarious (as if it wasn't already). Actual foreign DVDs are even better, but you'll need to invest in a zone-free DVD player...yet another annoyance of trying to immerse yourself in a different country's culture without leaving the States. Due to copyrights and other things I'll never fully understand, there are certain coded DVD zones throughout the world and our DVD players and laptops will not play DVDs made in a different zone. Sighhh.
Until I can get myself back to France (and with the look of my current bank account, it's gonna be awhile!), I can always pretend through books and movies, and make sure I don't forget all the vocab I worked so hard to learn over the years.
PS - Happy Early Bastille Day! :)