Speaking French can be the most daunting part of learning the language, but this is often just down to confidence.
Even people with a very good level can find themselves clamming up when it comes to conversation practice.
It is different to reading and writing where you have more time to reflect and organise your thoughts. Speaking instead requires you to think on your feet.
However, there are lots of things to keep in mind when speaking French to help you keep a cool head under pressure.
Here are our tips for gaining confidence in speaking French.
1. Trompez-vous, mais trompez-vous avec confiance
The above French phrase translates as “make mistakes, but make mistakes with confidence”.
At university, our oral French teacher started each class with this mantra and it was the most helpful advice we ever received.
So often language learners get caught up with trying to be perfect in the new language, whether it be verb conjugations, the imparfait or passé composé, or simply searching for a specific word.
The best thing to keep in mind is no one cares if you make mistakes.
Put yourselves in the shoes of someone who is learning English. Most of the time, even if their English is broken, you can understand what they are trying to say and appreciate that they are making the effort to communicate.
The same goes for French - a little goes a very long way in language learning and, usually, people are more than happy to help you along if you try.
Don’t worry about how you are conjugating the verb - at the end of the day, no one will remember that you used the nous form instead of the vous form.
What people will remember is the conversation you had and rest assured once you let go of the worry about being 100% perfect the quality of your conversations will increase tenfold.
2. Practise speaking with yourself in French
This may sound bizarre but, for nervous speakers, this technique can help you to feel more prepared.
If you have an upcoming meeting or situation that is stressing you, practise having the conversation with yourself first.
This way, you can consider the different scenarios that may arise and give yourself more time to think about how you want to approach them.
You can play both roles and practise asking different questions and answers so that you have covered all bases before doing it for real.
3. Use opportunities to your advantage
In situations where you have the opportunity to practise basic phrases, use them to your advantage.
It could be in the supermarket, the bakers or the pharmacy - ask questions and talk to the people working the shop.
These don’t have to be long, drawn-out conversations but simple quick exchanges using basic vocabulary to increase your confidence.
Otherwise, if you have been learning new vocabulary, you can manufacture situations to put it into practice. For example, ask someone in the street for directions or ask the butcher for a recipe to cook a certain piece of meat.
This way, you can walk away from your daily errands with a sense of achievement. It is a win-win!
4. Record yourself speaking
Again, this might seem a bizarre idea but it can help you gain an understanding of what you sound like when speaking French.
Recording yourself speaking can give you an idea of what you sound like to other people, and therefore hopefully increase your confidence that they will understand you.
If you have any French friends, get into the habit of sending them voice notes instead of written text, to maximise speaking practice.
5. Practice with other language learners
This one may seem obvious, but practising with other French learners can put you at ease as everyone is in the same boat.
While arguably the best way to improve is to surround yourself with native speakers, this is a great way to develop confidence in a comfortable environment.
With other language learners, you are free to practise without fear of misunderstandings and you can help each other to improve and find the right words in a stress-free environment.
Don’t be afraid to sometimes revert to Franglais when you are unsure of a word or phrase.
Rather than worrying about getting everything right, if you don’t know a word in French say it in English instead of interrupting the conversation or not saying what you want to say.
Often the other person will either know what you mean or be able to work it out from the context. Afterwards, you can ask them for the word in French.
It also means you will be more likely to remember this word in French when it next comes up, having learnt it in such a specific setting.