To learn a new language can be frustrating. You go to your weekly beginner's French course, sit out your time, try to study your verb tenses, learn your French vocabulary lists and do your best to understand French grammar. You know all about Romance languages and how they evolved from Latin, noting the similarities with Portuguese when you go out on holiday.
And yet every time you try to speak French, all that comes out is bonjour and merci.
Here are a few tips to help you learn French fast next to your regular French language course.
Daily French Classes: French Language Learning with Post-Its and Flashcards
A fun way to study French is to use cards. You can use cards for vocabulary words and phrases or for grammar, or even for comprehension exercises.
Flashcards: studying French on the go
Whether it is Dutch, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic or French, when learning a foreign language, flash cards are better for memorization than grammar books or word lists. For one thing, copying over the information helps consolidate it in your mind. For another, you will not be learning things in a particular order, so your brain can’t fall back on associations with the previous lesson or where a word was on the page (for those with photographic memory). You really have to assimilate what you learn.
Vocabulary flashcards should have the French word with its article (masculine or feminine) and plural form on one side and the English translation on the other. Don’t always learn them one way: go through a stack in one direction (French to English) and then do them again in the other direction (English to French) or mix them up so you have a few in one direction, then a few in the other, and so on…
Grammar flashcards can either simply have a condensed version of a grammar rule on one side and the description of the rule the other, or you can work with questions on one side (when do you use the pluperfect? How is the pluperfect formed? Where does the adverb go?) and the answer on the other.
Comprehension flashcards have little texts pasted onto them (larger index cards) or simple phrases with either the English translations or just the vocabulary on the other side. These are more challenging and take longer to make, but they will spice up your French learning with quotes from famous French authors or excerpts from your favourite Franco-Belge comics.
You can leave a box of them anyplace you will be standing or sitting around by yourself for awhile: the kitchen while waiting for the pasta to cook, by the sofa so you can memorize a few French numbers during commercials or whenever Netflix asks if you are still watching, by the toilet, or why not stick a box in your bag for your commute? You can choose to mix and match grammar and vocabulary or focus on just one thing in one place. Repetition will help you learn verb conjugations, the right pronoun to use, and basic vocabulary.
Sticky notes: study French with labels
Another idea for practicing vocabulary is with sticky notes. The basic idea is to write vocabulary words for the most common objects around you onto post-its and stick them onto the actual object.
So your door will be labelled la porte, your telephone le téléphone and your sofa le canapé so you learn to associate common words with the actual objects rather than translating them into English words when memorizing them.
There are other fun games to learn French with sticky notes. Instead of vocabulary, you can scatter little challenges about grammar rules throughout your house:
- Recite the conjugation of the irregular verbs croire and prendre
- When does the past participle agree with the object when the auxiliary verb is avoir?
- What’s the plural of souris?
- What pronoun is used for the second person plural?
- Which of these expressions means "I want to learn”?
More exercises to study grammar and vocabulary are to build a little narrative based on what is in the room by writing questions on your post-its that you will have to answer out loud in French.
These phrases, dealing with objects you are familiar with, will improve your speaking skills and encourage you to use your French in action - it’s like a French test, but without the pressure. A much better way to stay motivated! Here are some examples:
- Qui est assis(e) sur le canapé? (Who is sitting on the sofa?) And you must answer Je suis assis sur le canapé or le chat est assis sur le canapé or even Personne n'est assis sur le canapé…
- Qui met la table? (Who is setting the table?)
- Comment fonctionne le micro-ondes? (How do you use the microwave?)
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How to Learn French With a Language Diary
A variation on the post-its and flashcards to help you learn French fast is to keep a French language diary.
No doubt in your language school your French teacher sometimes has you write very simple essays or at least phrases in French to improve your written French.
This is the same.
Every day - it doesn’t matter if you do it in the morning or the evening or even at lunchtime - you are going to write in French.
It can be a shopping list. It can be summary of what you want to do or have done that day. It can be your thoughts or feelings.
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When you learn a new language, it’s important to use it, in addition, practising basic grammar, to reinforce the learning process. While you are still learning French for beginners, you will keep your sentences simple:
- acheter des concombres.
- j’ai fait du jogging.
- je suis triste.
Then, as you progress to Intermediate French or Advanced French language lessons, you can write more complicated sentences or even little paragraphs and stories.
The idea is to perfect your language skills by applying what you have learned in a context away from the structured learning of a French lesson. You are free to write what you want, which will hopefully help give you the motivation to learn harder.
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French Language Immersion: the Best Way to Learn French
Want to learn how to speak French like a native? How to understand what your French teacher is saying, gain confidence in your French verbs and come across as a true Rosetta stone of English-French communication?
A native English speaker sometimes has trouble with the correct pronunciation of French words. The best way to improve your French accent and speak French fluently is to immerse yourself in the language.
Of course, the ultimate immersive experience is going to France. Whether a longer trip to France or the possibility of living in France - for example as an au pair - for weeks or months on end, the best way to learn a language is total immersion.
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However, since living in the country is not an option available to everyone, here are a few alternatives on how to learn French by immersion without visiting yet another French language course.
Improve your written French outside of language courses
A good way to improve your written French is to read a lot in French. Reading regularly in French will help you understand unknown words in context, focus your memory and expand your French vocabulary. To practise French, a French newspaper is ideal because of the range of topics covered, but if you find it difficult to read in French about things that don’t interest you, you can also read French hobby magazines or blogs hosted on a French website.
And of course you can read a book in French at any level - and we’re not talking about textbooks. Beginners will start with books for toddlers, progress to primary-school level narratives and comics while Intermediate-level French learners can enjoy Young Adult and advanced readers can consider tackling the classics such as Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte-Cristo.
Improve your listening comprehension and learn new words
Another way to learn common phrases in French is to watch a French movie. You can, of course, turn the audio to French on your favourite series. Though this is a good way to start because you are familiar with the plots and understand the context in which words and expressions are used, you should try and watch original French films rather than dubbed ones. The discrepancy between what the mouth is doing and the sounds the actors are making can be distracting.
Don’t be shy about putting on English subtitles at first, but consider switching to French subtitles as soon as possible. This will help you reconciliate written and spoken French and teach you proper pronunciation. Soon you will be able to watch without any subtitles at all. Films are also a great way to discover French culture.
Of course, French songs are also a nice way to immerse yourself in the French language; but remember that in music the language is not as grammatical as that taught by your French teachers.
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Or you can learn French by podcast. There are some podcasts aimed specifically at people who want to learn French as a foreign language, or you can simply listen to the news in French, tune in to French radio or download an MP3 about fly fishing.
In the same vein, more advanced students might want to listen to audiobooks in French. Especially if you lack the time to sit down and read, audiobooks are a wonderful way to absorb the phonetics of French and perfect your listening skills.
How to learn spoken French: French language exchange
As a teaching method, the previous examples are all passive. If you want to actively improve your conversation skills, consider finding a language exchange partner. Language partners are native speakers who will teach you their native language in exchange for learning English. It is an enjoyable way to apply your irregular verbs in context and try a different learning style. You can meet up with someone for a one-on-one learning experience or try learning French online via Skype - chacun à son goût!
So in this case someone with French as a first language teaches you by speaking French to you, and you will in turn teach them English by speaking to them in English. It’s a way to get free French lessons, immerse yourself in the language and help someone out for whom English is a second language. Your conversational French will improve, as will your pronunciation and your understanding of French idiom.
But language buddies don’t just help you improve your French accent - they will introduce you to French language and culture, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are teaching someone to pronounce and speak English in return. You will see your proficiency and that of your partner rise by the day!
Or if you don’t have time to devote to teaching someone English, you can find Superprof tutors who will be willing to talk to you in French to help you become fluent! Privat tutoring will boost your confidence and motivation by adapting the French courses to your own rhythm and allowing you to be able to learn at your own pace.
A tutor who is truly bilingual is certainly the best bet, but it’s usually enough if French is their mother tongue with good fluency in English.
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