The courses were created by the Foreign Service Institute and were intended for diplomats. The courses are old, but well structured. Courses in some languages are available on this site. There is not problem in downloading because the contents are in the public domain.
How the FSI courses work?
In the first part is presented a dialogue that must be memorized. The dialogues usually contain vocabulary that will be used in the chapter and grammatical points.
The second part is the course longest and contains many exercises with repetition.
The third part of the chapter has some tests, usually a translation of written phrases.
Introduction to French Phonology
It was the first Foreign Service Institute that I used. As the name says, it focus is the French phonology. As the sounds of the French are a bit more complicated than the sounds of Portuguese and Spanish, is worth doing the course to recognize and reproduce sounds that sound alike or equal to foreigners but are quite distinct for a Frenchspeaker.
As already said the first part of the course consists of a dialogue. Shortly thereafter, the pronunciation examples are given. The questions are quite varied and address all aspects of phonology, as syllabification of words, rhythm, intonation and pronunciation. One of the most interesting parts is the audios that compared the correct and incorrect pronunciations.
In the second part there are various exercises, in most of them you have to hear a word or phrase, repeat them and answer some questions. The explanations are few and brief. In this part there are also plenty of reading exercises.
The third part is the test. In them, you have to identify rhythm of the words/phrases or check if the pronunciation is correct or wrong. And write the sentences heard in the audio.
Some examples of exercises:
To check the answers just look at the teacher’s book, also available online.
French Basic Course (Revised)
This course is divided into two volumes and has 24 chapters. As stated here, the U.S. State Department has its own kind of categorization to classify proficiency in foreign languages. I prefer to use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, from the European Council. If the student manage to finish the course, respecting the indications, will surely be at B2 level. Yes, I did said, if… The course is quite dense, repetitive, that is to say, is boring to do. Originally planned to diplomats, it has no visual appeal and isn’t focus just on conversation, as much of the new courses. The book was planned to be used in class and in the laboratory, and diplomats studied for about 6 hours a day. A very intensive language learning program.
Ideally, one should move on with the course with 100% accuracy in the exercises, but this is difficult, I kept going when I nailed about 70% or 80%. Every six chapters, one is revision. After the 6th chapter the grammar themes are much more difficult. I had great difficulty in chapters 8 and 9 and after endless repetitions ended up just moving on. In the second volume, explanations decrease, as also the repetition of new words. At this point, exercises become a bit more difficult. The difficulty also depends on the topic, some are easier.
I completed the course, but not with 100% accuracy. I intend to redo the course, as soon as possible.
Course Structure and types of exercises
Dialogue: Starts the chapter with basic vocabulary and grammar points that’ll be used. Students should memorize the dialogue before moving on.
Useful Words: new words are introduced, usually related to the topic of the dialogue.
Vocabulary Awareness: this part is usually not recorded; it is almost a continuation of part of “Useful words”. Displays the words the way they are used and with some additions with pronouns, conjunctions, adverbs, etc.
Drills: as I said before, represent the largest part of the course, the exercises work several aspects, but the focus is vocabulary retention and grammar. The types are:
Lexical Drills: As the name implies, these are exercises to retain the learned vocabulary and improve fluency.
Learning Drills introduce grammatical points.
Practice Drills are a bit more difficult, they deepen a little more grammatical points.
Question/Answer Drills: In this part questions are asked, almost all related to the dialogue at the beginning of the chapter and the student must reply.
Review Drills: as the name says are exercises that summarize the contents of the chapter.
Situations are small dialogs which are based on the vocabulary and grammar learned. Help to verify the understanding of the lessons.
Narrations: they are not present in all chapters, becoming common only in the last chapters. The narrations are in third person; and the texts are about someone daily life or cultural facts of France.
Writing Drills: as stated before, are basically translation exercises from French to English as the opposite.
As stated before the course is quite dense and difficult to finish. At first, the lessons were torturous, as time goes by, I got used to the style of study. As the course is free, does not cost anything to give a chance to the method, to see if you get accustomed to the style. If you do not like or hate the course (high probability of occurring) leave the course and do another that motivates you and that you enjoy, after all learning don’t need to be torturous.
Though the course is available for free, the material has a high quality. The drills are well structured and doing the course properly, fluency will not be difficult to achieve. The grammatical explanations are a bit superficial for a course with such a structure, but this is not a problem, since the application drills are most important and the course is full of them.
The course was designed in the 60’s and aim diplomats, and this brings some negative aspects. The vocabulary is a bit old, sometimes slightly old-fashioned for nowadays. There are dialogues that are only applicable in consular situations, but it is reduced part of the course. The audio quality is diverse, some are good, some very bad. And the pronoun “tu” that is informal in French is virtually ignored in the course.
I recommend the course to anyone who wants to learn French at any cost or has no money to buy another quality course. The method is also a great complement to Assimil: New French with Ease.