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How to successfully learn French

Struggling to get to grips with French, even after years of study and trying to speak to your French neighbours? Camille Chevalier Karfis, of French Today, offers effective advice that will help break through the language deadlock

25 May 2018
By Camille Chevalier Karfis of French Today

As a French teacher, I often hear this comment: “French is way too difficult - after years of studying, I still can’t speak the language.”

I have to admit French is not the easiest of languages. However, I believe everybody can learn French well enough to communicate in French, and get good grades. In my eyes, what’s really important is setting up your priorities.

Before starting to study for hours on end, you first need to decide what is your main French goal.

Are you learning French to pass an exam? Or to travel to France? For work, maybe? Or is it just for pleasure, because you like the intellectual stimulation of studying French and who knows, maybe one day you may even use it?

Defining your French goal will help you select the right tools to learn French.

If you want to ace French exams, learn your verb conjugations inside out! It’s likely to be a big part of the score of the exam.

If you plan to travel to France, start by learning typical sentences, and truly useful vocabulary. Make sure your pronunciation is right: you absolutely need to learn French with audio so French people understand you when you speak, but also so you understand French people when they speak. Written French and spoken French are like two different languages!

At first, only learn the present tense. If you say “two weeks ago I go to Paris”, everybody will understand you even if it is incorrect. You cannot learn everything at once: you have to pick your priorities. As a beginner, or even as a low intermediate student, your priority should NOT be mastering all the verb conjugations.

For work, you need to know the specific vocabulary for your line of work. Plus questions / answers you are likely to run into - and politeness, of course. You won’t necessarily need to say “my tailor is rich”... Working with a tutor who can teach you things you need for your particular area work is a good idea. Chances are you could add the cost of the lessons to your expenses, too...

If you are learning French for pleasure, make sure that the learning itself is pleasurable! Don't pressure yourself: you want to learn French with pop songs because you enjoy French music? It may not be the fastest way to learn French, nor teach you the most usable vocabulary, but what really matters is that you have fun!

There is a ton of French learning material out-there. Do some research. Make sure that if you are learning French to speak / understand French, you pick a method with audio.

Then focus on what you like to do: you love grammar (yes, some people do...) then buy grammar methods and quiz books. You enjoy French movies? Pick one that you really like and repeat the same short part over and over again until you can repeat it just like an actor would...

In any case, don’t scatter yourself. That’s how you end up studying for years without getting the results that are important for you.

Set up your goals THEN chose the tools that will gradually get you there.

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