French has a certain je ne sais quoi that attracts learners from all over the globe. France is home to the city of lights, quaint Provencal towns and every landscape from snowy mountains to Mediterranean beaches, and on top of that, there are French-speaking communities on every continent. Whether you’re interested in the language for travel and tourism, for education or work, or simply to acquire a new skill, you’re going to want to know the best way to learn French.
Learning a language cannot be done half-heartedly, or practiced every now and then. It requires commitment. The best way to commit to something is to be held accountable. By holding yourself accountable, you’re less likely to quit as you will face consequences if you stop before achieving your goals. One of the best ways to be held accountable is to share your goals publicly. You could post on social media that you’re learning French or tell all of your friends and family, that way it’s difficult to just stop suddenly without anyone realizing. Another way is to learn with a friend. Some friendly competition is good motivation to continue, and you’re less likely to abandon your friend.
Simply saying “I’m going to learn French” is not a specific or achievable goal. Do you want to know the basics for getting by on holiday? Do you need thorough grammar knowledge for reading and writing? Or do you just want to understand when people speak to you in French? Decide your overall goal, and then set yourself smaller, achievable objectives. Depending on your level, you could aim to play 3 rounds of your favorite French-learning game, you could aim to read one chapter of a French book every night, or listen to one episode of a French podcast every week. Goals vary from person to person, and greatly depend on how much time you can invest in learning a language, but remember it’s better to start small and gradually set more and more challenging goals.
You’re already committed and have set yourself some goals. Now what? Well, you need to dive right in and start learning! I would recommend you start with the foundations of the language.
French shares the same alphabet as English, with the addition of accents. This makes it an easier language to learn than those with different writing systems. Some letter combinations create new sounds, but overall we read the words phonetically. Once you know the pronunciation of the alphabet, you’re already on your way to reading French.
Next, you need to tackle some grammar. You cannot make a sentence without verbs, so you should try to learn the different conjugations for each verb regular group, starting logically with the present tense, before progressing to the passé composé.
Do you enjoy sitting down with a book in front of the fire on cozy winter nights? Or do you make the most of your summer vacation by relaxing by the pool with a new novel? If you’re a bookworm who wants to learn French, then it only makes sense to pick up a book in French. If you’re only a beginner and are worried that an adult book would be too difficult for you, then start with kids’ books. Opt for traditional fairy tales so that you already know the gist of the story, or try a “half and half” book which has one page to read in French, and a translation on the page opposite. If you’re not a booklover, then you could try reading headlines of newspapers, magazines or any online publication. Headlines are short and are designed to grab your attention, so in just a few minutes you could learn new words, new grammar and some interesting new information too.
A lot of people learning a language don’t need to be able to write. If your goal is to improve your conversational skills, then writing probably isn’t a priority for you. However, if you require French for your studies or work, if you need to be able to express yourself on paper or communicate via email, then improving French writing skills will be vital to you. One of the best writing techniques for students of every level is keeping a journal. Writing in a personal diary every day enables you to recount your day using different verbs and vocabulary. To expand on the basics, you could add how you felt, what you wore, what you ate, who you saw, and try to include something unusual that happened.
The Best Way to Learn French: Listening
Imagine this: you’re in a French boulangerie, you’ve prepared a sentence in your head, you say it perfectly, feeling proud of your French abilities, and then the boulanger responds with a complicated French sentence at full speed that you don’t understand, leaving you feeling deflated and defeated. This is a common occurrence for French students, and it’s because listening is the one thing we don’t practice enough. Understanding spoken French is difficult and if you only listen to French teachers or recordings designed for foreign students, then your brain will have trouble understanding native French speakers speaking as fast as they do.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of resources online to help you work on your listening skills. You can listen to French podcasts, music, radio or TV shows, the news, or interviews with your favorite Francophone stars. Whatever you choose to listen to, make sure the topic interests you so that you stay focused, and if you’re a beginner, start with just five minutes worth of audio. Once you’ve chosen your audio file, listen once, with your full attention on the speakers. Next, listen for a second time, writing down all the keywords that you hear. Then, listen to it once more, adding detail to your notes. Finally, you should read through your notes and see if you can get the gist of what was said.
The Best Way to Learn French: Speaking
The majority of people who take an interest in languages want to acquire one skill more than any other: speaking. Being able to converse in a foreign language or even just express your needs is a valuable skill. That leads us to the all-important question: how do you learn to speak French?
Practice makes perfect, and when it comes to speaking a foreign language, practice is everything. You can talk to yourself, record yourself speaking and listen back, or find yourself a partner to chat with. There are apps available to help you find a language exchange partner, but don’t underestimate the power of social media to connect you with native French speakers from around the world. Finding a pen pal might require speaking English in return for some French conversation, but it will allow you to progress more quickly thanks to your partner correcting your mistakes.
Another way to improve your conversational skills is to hire a tutor. You could ask a local French speaker or French-speaking university student who’s looking to earn a bit of extra money, and spend a short amount of time chatting over a coffee every week. These kinds of informal tutoring sessions can help you let your guard down and build confidence speaking French.
When it comes to finding resources for learning French, remember this: technology is your friend. Online games and smartphone apps, such as the gap-fill game Clozemaster, make language learning more fun than ever before. You can work on all four individual language skills; reading, writing, listening and speaking, or you can focus on a particular area of grammar or vocabulary topic.
If you have a competitive streak, many apps allow you to compete with your friends, compare scores or climb leaderboards, either in your area or globally. This aspect of competition can be highly motivating and encourage you to play more, and therefore spend more time learning French. Find out more about the best apps for learning French, including Duolingo, Clozemaster and many others.
Technological advances have allowed us to replace human interaction in many areas of life. However, technology cannot replace real-life conversation. That’s why one of the best resources for learning French is, and will always be, other people. Whether it’s people trying to progress just like you, or native speakers, you will progress more quickly when spending time around Francophones and immersing yourself in the language.
One of the best resources for learning French is one that’s been used for decades: taking classes. There are two different types of French class available, both with their own unique advantages. On the one hand, a private teacher, online or face-to-face, can help you focus on the areas you’re struggling with. This will enable you to improve more rapidly as they are able to concentrate on you individually rather than splitting their attention between several students. On the other hand, a group class has the advantage of team spirit, mutual support and being able to practice with like-minded students who have a similar French level to you.
The type of class that’s best for you depends entirely on your personal preference and your learning style, but both are extremely beneficial.
Some people don’t want to rely on technology, or simply don’t enjoy staring at the blue light of a computer or smartphone. In that case, there are old-fashioned alternatives that mustn’t be forgotten. Coursebooks and workbooks can allow you to follow a course in your free time, at your own pace, with lessons written out for you to read and exercises to complete to practice each new topic.
Finally, one of the best ways to learn French is of course by language immersion. The benefits of total immersion cannot be denied: you are plunged into the culture, surrounded by the language, and are obliged to speak French in order to get by and communicate with the locals. The easiest way to immerse yourself in the French language is by going on vacation to a Francophone country. You will find English speakers in most large cities around the world, so don’t hesitate to go somewhere more rural, off the beaten track where there are fewer tourists and therefore a smaller chance of finding someone who speaks your language. In these places, you’ll not only have more opportunities to practice your French, but you might also discover a hidden gem, without all the tourist traps of more popular holiday destinations.