Having a rigid classroom structure is a great way to learn French for some people – but its not for everyone. In fact, many people prefer to learn languages entirely on their own. If you’ve dreamed about becoming a fluent, self-taught French speaker, here’s how to learn French on your own.
A Guide for Self-Taught French
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll define and explore the three essential steps for how to learn French on your own. This guide provides a framework that you adjust and expand depending on previous knowledge and needs. If you’ve studied French before, for example, you may want to gloss over step 1 and start at step 2 (depending on how much you remember).
We’ll also outline how long you should spend on each step before moving to the next one.
Steps for How to Learn French on Your Own
The steps we’ll cover include:
How long will it take to learn French?
In total, these guidelines are meant to help you become conversant in one year. You can speed up the tips if you’re traveling sooner, or spread the lessons out if you’ve got more time to spare.
This post will also explore how to find the best French learning resources, strategies for studying and how to set realistic language goals.
A step-by-step approach to learning French
To help with this guide, we’ve teamed up with French speaker and teacher Jonathan Huggins of Huggins International. Jonathan has been studying French for over two decades, and you’ll find his tips for learning French throughout this post.
Ideally, you’ll spend one hour each day practicing French.
You can also double up on the weekends – the most important thing is that you can commit to around 7 hours per week. Our guide highly suggests that you find time to converse in French, too. This is an essential aspect of listening and speaking comprehension, but we’ll outline tips for that later.
According to Jonathan, you should also choose the right time of day to learn French. For example, your brain might not be alert and active if you try to squeeze in time at the end of the day after work, or too early in the morning before you’ve had to time wake up.
“Instead, find a moment when you are at your optimum and can focus for a few minutes on both reviewing previously learned content and some new material” Huggins adds.
How to Learn French on Your Own: Getting Prepared
In addition to setting aside time, you’ll also need to be motivated, determined and patient. Every form of self-taught education requires this trait. However, it’s especially important when learning a difficult language like French all on your own.
Lastly, to mentally prepare yourself for this exciting journey, you’ll need a solid dose of concentration. If you’re constantly leaving mid-lesson to take the dog out or check your Instagram feed, the whole process will become more frustrating. This is why it’s so important to choose a time of day when you know you’re most productive (which probably isn’t after a long day at work).
Tips for Learning French on Your Own
Remember: this guide is designed specifically for people who want to become fluent in French through a self-taught program lasting up to 12 months.
If you’re looking for a crash course or you’re heading to France next month, our post on how long it takes to learn French may help you create a realistic short-term goal.
You’re still reading… which means you’re confident and ready to learn French independently. Great! Let’s dive in.
Time commitment for step 1: 1-3 months
The first few weeks of your French learning journey are all about gaining your bearings. This stage will familiarize you with French speaking and help you create a strong foundation.
To get started, its important that you choose a method you enjoy.
According to language expert Jonathan, there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all approach to learning French. “It really depends on understanding your individual learning style. Know what you prefer and what gets you the best results” he adds. So, it’s best to choose a format depending on how you like to learn and gain information.
Here’s how to choose a French resources based on your learning style:
Here’s how to learn French on your own by finding the right resources. (Feel free to mix and match mediums if you enjoy more than one format!)
For someone who loves reading:
Grammar books may be best for your learning style if you love reading. There are thousands of options in your local library and online, but some are better than others. Check out this list of the top French grammar books to narrow your search.
Note: you won’t be reading this grammar book cover to cover. Rather, you’ll use it as a reference to better understand tenses and conjugation as questions arise throughout your lessons. If you prefer reading, you should also combine book resources with listening or visual resources to ensure you don’t get too bogged down by grammar.
If you’ve always learned best by listening:
Podcasts might be a better first option if you’re a big fan of music and radio programs. Podcasts are a fun and free way for beginners to become more familiar with the language. For help finding the right one, visit our roundup of 10 podcasts in French to improve your listening skills.
If you’re a visual learner:
You’ll likely enjoy learning from videos if you consider yourself a French learner. Check out this list of YouTube channels for learning French, compiled by our friend Benjamin Houy of FrenchTogether.
You might also benefit from using apps or online tools, which allow you to visualize French phrases in context. Clozemaster is a helpful tool that helps you test yourself daily and track your progress as your skills advance.
Find a Textbook
To get started on step 2, you’ll first need to find a proper textbook. Just like grammar books, there are thousands of French textbooks to choose from. When you’re trying to learn French on your own, however, you’ll need a textbook that won’t require the aid of a teacher.
Therefore, a book designed for self-guided learning is best. You could find a free resource, like this French textbook from Wikimedia Commons, then pair it with a book that includes dialogue.
Dialogue in a textbook is important for many reasons. It can be read, written down, and most importantly, practiced aloud. Take turns reading through both sides of the conversation. Pronounce the best you can, and research words that you don’t understand. Get used to the way this feels.
Make your own French Dialogue
Once you’ve gotten more comfortable with the pronunciation of words, even just to yourself, you’ll want to use those words to form sentences of your own.
Pull out sentences from dialogue and make them true for yourself. You might also try mixing them around into a different structure. for example, you could transform a statement into a question to practice your inquiry skills.
Or, you might take a sentence where someone agrees and turn it into a sentence where that person disagrees. Then, explain yourself and pretend you’re disagreeing with someone in a real, thought-provoking conversation.
These exercises will help you navigate the world of fluid French speaking.
Time commitment for step 2: 3-6 months
After studying French for a few months, you’ll be off to a great start. But it’s important to test yourself on what you’ve learned.
To continue going strong and avoid getting stuck on the plateau, its important to constantly be learning. In this context, learning means both remembering and using what you’ve learned while also acquiring new and challenging vocabulary.
The best way to learn French on your own is to constantly revise, test and practice. If you’re not going over what you’ve learned, it’ll likely fade from you memory as quickly as it was acquired.
Reading is one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with more complex sentences and new vocabulary. As we discussed previously, its important to engage with topics you enjoy.
If you enjoy cooking magazines, for example, pick up one in French. If you’re a fan of science fiction, opt for a book of this genre in French. As long as its written in French and its interesting to you, its a go.
How Often Should You Read in French?
At this point, you should commit to reading French for 15-30 minutes per day. Depending on the other work you’re putting in, this could certainly be scaled up or down. The most important thing here is that you’re using reading time to practice your vocabulary.
Reading to expand your vocabulary
Be sure to write down words and phrases that you haven’t previously encountered. It’s especially important to be aware of expressions and ideas that are relevant to your personal life.
If you’re an artist, for example, a history book about Monet might offer some helpful terms regarding your profession, which you can use to talk about yourself in conversation. Since you’ve already chosen a topic that interests you, this should come naturally!
At the end of each week, take time to review these new terms and test yourself on them. Slowly rotate old cards out as you add new cards to the deck – this will ensure you’re always reviewing new and old content at the same time.
You might be tempted to use your smartphone or computer to look words up. Don’t! Your smartphone doesn’t know how to learn French on your own. Instead, the best way to learn French is to truly, deeply focus. If you’re constantly checking your phone you will get distracted and your learning will be less effective. This is true even if you’re trying to look up something in French amidst reading and testing. Stick to the books and you’ll get results much faster.
As you expand your vocabulary, it’s important to practice speaking words and phrases aloud. If this is your first time speaking French, the accent will likely feel clunky and strange in your mouth – that’s normal.
Jonathan explains that it’s important to accept the fact that you won’t be perfect outright. Worrying too much about the French u, the French r, and those pesky silent final consonants, for example, can cause frustration.
In turn, this frustration can become an excuse for not practicing your French speaking. To make sure you don’t get caught up in this initial challenge, “focus first on simple effective communication and not on perfection” Jonathan says.
If there’s one essential tip for how to learn French on your own, its essential to test yourself. Flashcards are a helpful (and free) way to memorize new words quickly and efficiently. Each batch of flash cards should include words and phrases related to a common theme or idea. This gives the words context, which reinforces their meaning for better recall later on.
As you’re working to review what you’ve learned, remember: there’s no such thing as perfect. Focus on trying to get the ideas right and express yourself.
Flash cards are best reviewed for about 15-20 minutes per day. You can do this all at once if you’re feeling ambitious. But, you can also break it up into short 5-minute sessions so your brain stays sharp.
Its now time to start incorporating even more French into your daily life. The first step? Conversing in French.
Time commitment for step 3: 6-12 months
How to learn French on your own? Talk, talk talk!
French conversation is key for helping you flex your listening muscles while exploring advanced dialogue. Speaking with other people about their lives and interests will also expose you to new vocabulary you haven’t encountered before. From where they were born to what they do for fun, new people open up an infinite world of possibility. (Your grammar book and textbook will certainly come in handy here).
Do you know what else speaking in French can help you with? Confidence.
Sure, you won’t be perfect at first, but who cares. Speaking often is the only way you’ll become confident enough to navigate French conversation and make your way around a new city.
So where can you find a French speaking partner? One of the best resources out there today is called Meetup. This app brings together people from all over a city or region to engage in French speaking practice. Meeting people in person isn’t as scary as you might think.
Remember: they’re all in the same position. Everyone just wants to practice their French with new and encouraging friends.
If you’re not able to meet up with people in real life – or you’d rather not – the internet is filled with French speakers who are ready to chat and practice. You might also find a language exchange, where you can help someone with their English and they can help you with your French.
Not ready to talk yet? Improve your French writing skills
Conversing in French requires another person, and you can’t always have a French speaker by your side 24/7. Speaking can also be stressful and overwhelming at times. The next best option to work on your production skills to practice writing in French.
Resources like The Great Translation Game allow you to practice your French writing skills in a stress-free environment and get immediate feedback. You simply select or upload any text you’d like, read through it in French with English translations (or whatever base language you choose), then work through it again translating from the English back into French. You know what you’re writing is correct as long as you’re using native level content, for example news articles from Le Monde, and you’re learning vocab you’ll need since you’re using resources you’re interested in.
Practicing writing in French is a great way to improve your recall and production skills, skills that will carry over to speaking. It’s also a great way to rapidly expand your vocab and start thinking more in French.
French thought patterns
Even when you can’t converse with someone or you’re not in front of a computer to practice writing, you can still be practicing the language in your mind.
For example, you can be making comments on the world around you in French. You can describe people and places, or pretend what you might say to a person on the street. Pretend you’re lost – ask for directions in your head.
Thinking in French is an essential part of becoming fluent.
Despite how easy this strategy seems, its often overlooked by people who are learning French on their own. Speaking French in your head also makes French thought patterns a habit, which is a subtle yet powerful way to get more French into your head.
Immerse Yourself in French Culture
Next stop? Living the life of a true French person. From watching TV to listening to music, there are many ways this can be accomplished.
As we’ve discussed, its important to find a medium that works for you. If you’re a total movie buff, don’t overlook the power of French cinema. If you’re a music nerd, opt for that. We’ve covered a variety of ways that you learn French for free, and that post is filled with everything from TV shows to podcasts.
Another way to surround yourself with French culture is to find events in your community. Is there a French alliance or community center? How about a French class putting on a play in French at the local university? Surrounding yourself in the language and culture will further reinforce key ideas and words in your mind.
Make lifestyle changes
Making lifestyle changes sounds difficult – but it is in fact quite easy.
Here are a few simple changes you can make in order to add more French to your daily life:
Put your computer and phone in French mode
This will help you by making French more familiar. It’ll also help you get accommodated to French technology terms and will add more vocabulary to your day.
Switch apps to French language
Also be sure to set your news and weather apps to French regions, no matter where you are in the world. Setting your browser features to French will also expose you to current events and news in the French world.
Instead of seeing English headlines, you’ll be exposed to French ones. Rather than reading news about the English-speaking world, you’ll learn the issues and people that are driving conversation in the French world.
Access lifestyle advice in French
If you’re like most people, you rely on the internet to access recipes, cooking tips, fitness videos, and more. These aspects of your lifestyle guide everyday decisions – so why not take this advice in French?
We recommend using apps like Pinterest and YouTube in French so that you can get exposure to more casual language describing everyday lifestyles.
Conclusion: How to Learn French on Your Own
If you’ve reached the end of this article, congrats! You’ve just taken a very important step towards understanding how to learn French on your own. It certainly won’t be easy – and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the language learning process that’ll work best for you.
At the end of the day, its important to find something that is simple and enjoyable for you. When it feels like a chore, or like homework, you’ll be less inclined to get the work done. And since you’re the one holding yourself accountable, its important to maintain a positive attitude and a motivated mindset.
Ready to jumpstart your French self-study? Check out Clozemaster – thousands of sentences, grammar practice, and more!