Learning a language can take years to master, but what if there were shortcuts to help you get there a little bit faster? Whether you’re getting ready for a romantic getaway, a work trip, semester abroad or making a permanent move to a French-speaking country, you need to know the fastest way to learn French. While there’s no miracle technique that will help you become fluent overnight, there are some simple ways you can speed up the learning process.
First of all, if you’re going to learn French fast, you need to commit to it. Learning a language is like training for a marathon: it takes a lot of time and effort to go from beginner level to being capable of running the whole 26 miles. If you already have a good fitness level, it will take you much less time. What’s more, if you dedicate your life to training, you will achieve your goal much faster than someone who only trains for an hour a day. If you want to learn French quickly, you have to put in a lot of hours in a short space of time, and make sure you “train” different aspects of the language and cover a variety of topics so that you’re confident in any given situation.
The most important skills when travelling to a French-speaking country are the ones that help you converse: listening and speaking. Improving your listening skills will enable you to comprehend spoken French, while speaking practice allows you to express yourself and respond to others.
To improve your listening skills and therefore your understanding of spoken French, you can do two kinds of learning: active and passive. Active listening entails concentrating on what you hear and actively using your brain to compute the information. Passive listening, on the other hand, is where you don’t have to process what you’re hearing, your brain will just absorb certain words and get used to hearing the French language.
Listen to a song, radio program or podcast, then summarize it in your native language, either on paper or verbally. You may want to jot down the main ideas rather than specific details. This will help you focus on picking up the most important information. If you need to learn French fast for a specific reason, such as a business trip, school trip or vacation, you could listen to an audio related to a relevant subject. For example, before a trip to San Francisco, you could watch a video about the history of the Golden Gate Bridge, or if you’re travelling to a marketing conference you could listen to a TED talk about modern marketing techniques.
When you were in school, did you ever listen to an audio file and then answer questions about it? These listening comprehension exercises test your ability to understand spoken French. You can find ready-made audio files and question worksheets online, or you can create your own simple exercise by challenging yourself to answer the five “W” questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Here are some examples of information you could try to listen out for:
- Who is speaking? What do they tell us about themselves, e.g. names, job titles?
- What is the conversation about?
- When did the conversation take place, or when did the thing they’re discussing take place?
- Where did the conversation take place, or where did the thing they’re discussing take place?
- Why are they talking about this topic?
If any other questions come to mind as you answer the 5 “W” questions, listen again to try to find the answers and develop your understanding further.
In passive listening, you do not need to respond to the audio, you don’t even need to fully comprehend it. Passive listening and passive learning can be done in several ways, and it can be extremely beneficial for those wanting to progress quickly. Passive learning alone cannot improve your level in a short amount of time, but it is a perfect complement to active learning techniques.
To use passive listening to help your French level advance quickly, you should have audio playing in the target language almost constantly throughout the day. You can listen to music, podcasts, the radio, watch videos or TV or movies. Any of these things playing in the background will allow your brain to become accustomed to the sound of the language.
- YouTube is the first place to look for French audio content. There are millions of music videos, lyric videos, vlogs and informative videos. Simply type a subject that interests you into the search bar as usual, but make sure to type it in French.
- Audiobook services such as Audible provide audio versions of some of the world’s best-known books. You can find popular books as well as lesser known authors in French. Choose a book you already know and love to give you a head start in understanding it.
- Radio channels work by transmitting electromagnetic waves, so you can usually only access your local radio stations from your car or home radio. However, thanks to websites and apps, you can access francophone radio stations.
- Learning apps provide different listening resources, such as their own podcasts, interviews and radios. For example, Clozemaster has a Radio function with which you can listen to French sentences spoken aloud, then hear them in English before hearing them one final time in French. This enables you to learn important phrases by listening, hands free, while completing other tasks or going about your everyday life.
If you’re not free to listen to French audio all day long, for example while you’re at work, then take every chance you get to play some French, for example: on your daily commute, while working out, in the shower, while cooking, cleaning and eating.
To fully make the most of these resources, you should alternate between passive and active listening. One example of switching easily from passive to active listening would be to put a movie on in French with French subtitles while you cook dinner. When you sit down to eat, try to listen actively and read the subtitles so that you learn some new words or phrases.
Another good time for passive learning is when you go to bed. Some people like to fall asleep with earphones in or a bit of background noise, while others prefer silence. If you prefer listening to something to help you fall asleep, then switch your usual playlist, podcast or audiobook to French.
You may be wondering if it’s really possible to learn as you sleep. It is said that when you fall asleep, you transition through different stages of wakefulness with different levels of brainwave activity. The best time to learn is during the Alpha or the Theta levels of brainwave activity. These are known as the “trance” states. When we are in a meditative state, or a state of physical relaxation, our brainwave activity slows down, and we are able to focus on the thing we are listening to and absorb the information without being distracted by our surroundings.
If you don’t understand each grammatical tense or verb conjugation, you can still get the gist of a conversation as long as you know the main vocabulary being used. That’s why it’s vital that you learn all the most common words. Start with the 100 most common French words, and then gradually learn more until you know the 1000 most common words.
Try to memorize the words and their English equivalents, and don’t forget to practice using them in context, both by saying them out loud and by writing them down in a sentence. This will help you understand how to use the vocabulary terms correctly and will reduce your chances of forgetting them.
Flashcards and language apps are a great way to learn vocabulary. Rather than the relaxed method of making flashcards to display around your house to learn over a long period of time, you should instead play flashcards games. This requires taking the time to sit and read the words on the flashcard and memorize them, for example by playing memory games or trying to match up words and their English translation or their corresponding image.
You can also try apps which focus on vocabulary games, such as Brainscape, Clozemaster or Duolingo. Playing games is a fun way to learn a foreign language, but it isn’t usually a quick way to achieve your goal. In order for games to be considered one of the fastest ways to learn French, you need to play them several times a day.
The fastest way to improve your French is by having real life conversations. Conversing with French-speakers allows you to practice both listening and speaking, and there’s nothing better than one-to-one communication to help to progress quickly. If you can’t find anyone that speaks French in your neighborhood, try a language exchange app to help you find a pen pal, or better yet, take French conversation lessons. Conversation classes with a native speaker or qualified tutor, either online or in person, enable you to learn French quickly through real-world conversations.
The only way to truly master a language is to immerse yourself in it. This means listening to it throughout the day at various moments, and speaking it at every given opportunity. While you may not have the chance to converse with French-speakers, that shouldn’t stop you immersing yourself in the French language: turn your phone, TV and computer language to French, watch TV and movies and read daily newspapers or magazines in French, listen to music or radio in the background as much as possible throughout the day, and try to speak aloud whenever you can, even if this means talking to yourself.
Finally, step out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Somebody who dares to speak French without worrying about how they sound or what people will think of them is far more likely to progress quickly than someone who has good knowledge of the French language but is too afraid to go out and speak. By putting your knowledge into action, you will have to think on your feet, find alternative ways of saying things when you don’t know the right words, and get by until you’re able to have a natural conversation.
What’s more, Francophones will appreciate the effort and are more likely to help you improve, either by correcting you, by filling the gaps when you don’t know certain vocabulary, or by slowing down their own speech to help you understand them. If someone tries to reply in another language, don’t be afraid to tell them you want to speak French. Be confident in your abilities, and you will go further than if you shy away from conversation.