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Experiment with French language-learning techniques and have some fun

Date a French native or join a class, Nick Inman runs through some options

Join a social or hobby group - you might not understand everything but you will make progress Pic: Halfpoint / Shutterstock

You want to learn French, but how?

No single method suits everyone so think hard and experiment before you shell out.

Whichever way you go, you will need a modicum of self-belief and a lot of persistence: the gift of tongues does not come easily to everyone and no one is going to do it for you.

Technology can help but it cannot yet feed language directly into your brain. You can only get so far with a multilingual Alexa and online translators.

Apps, such as Duolingo, are OK to learn a few words and sentences but they do not help you to have a proper conversation with someone.

Still, they give you something useful to do when you have a spare moment.

Read more: Five life hacks to speed up learning the French language

Fall in love with a francophone

Total immersion works best but it is tough. If you are surrounded by people who do not speak your native language, you will have no choice but to learn theirs.

The most certain way to learn a language, they say, is pillow talk. Find a French lover who does not speak English and you will be doubly blessed.

You may be worn out mentally and physically by the end of the course but even if you do not keep the house, you will know the entire range of vocabulary of the emotions.

Every raging argument will be a free language lesson in which you will hear and be able to repeat all manner of imperatives, subjunctives – and unprintable exclamations.

Not everyone gets to fall in love with a francophone, however, so most of us have to find another way to learn.

Join a group with a shared endeavour

Living in France is not enough by itself to master the language if you have mainly English-speaking friends and watch English-language TV.

It can be hard to make a new social circle but here is a tip: join a club or, better still, do a weekend residential course on a skill or hobby you have always wanted to learn.

Yes, it might be a struggle and you might not understand everything but you will make progress. 

When a group of people is engaged in a shared endeavour, most are indulgent and helpful to the foreigner in their midst.

Read more: Immersion in French language is stressful but leads to huge confidence

What about the obvious, old-fashioned way: lessons?

These can be useful but if you failed to learn French at school, do not sit down in a classroom that reminds you of the experience.

My teacher cured his own tobacco, which polluted the classroom with smoke. 

And he applied a heavy hand to the back of our heads when we got our acute accents mixed up with graves.

Language teaching has moved on since then but French as a foreign language is not always as student-based as its English counterpart.

Too much grammar can be off-putting

Make sure you choose a teacher who uses a method you can relate to. 

I also have an aversion to contrived educational materials: I would rather struggle with authentic recordings than ones in which actors use slowed, simplified artificial speech to help you understand what they are saying.

If you are not careful you will become an expert at listening to education-actors, which will not help you understand your neighbour’s patois.

Also, too much grammar can be off-putting.

Read more: French courses to improve your language skills

An online course? 

Easy, flexible and relatively cheap. I would only consider one if you are hyper-self-motivated, however. 

I have yet to meet anyone who has stuck at it for long enough, and regularly enough, to make real progress. 

It is too easy to play truant and, if you do not do your quota every day, the verbs and nouns will not stick.

In short, there is no truly easy way to learn French but whichever method you choose, try to build in at least a little fun.

If it is nothing but hard work, you will soon be wondering why you bother.

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