READER TIPS: How long should it take to learn French?

The US government says it should take 600-750 classroom hours - but do our readers agree?

What are the best ways to maximise your French learning?
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Our recent article on how long it should take to learn French provoked some debate among readers, who shared their experiences of learning French. What are their top tips for learning the language?

How long should it take to learn French?

The US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute says it should take 600-750 hours to learn French. It based the estimate on over 76 years of language teaching.

For reader Kim Lafont, a crucial consideration is how old the learner is. “It depends on age,” she wrote.

Read more: How long should it take to learn French for everyday use?

“(It will take) as long as it takes,” wrote Bob Williams, who has lived in France for 18 years. “There is no way to determine the time span. Total immersion doesn’t always work.”

Common struggles with learning French

Mr Williams shared that despite living in France for 17 years and understanding written French well, he still struggled with the spoken language.

“With a heavy Bordelaise accent, it’s fun trying to identify what is being said, let alone translating on the fly if you can’t understand the meaning of the words,” he said.

Jennifer Leigh, from the US, has been learning French for around seven years and noted comprehension can vary hugely depending on what accent you are listening to.

“TV and radio announcers are easy at this point. They’re trained in pace and enunciation. It’s the regular speakers that can be tricky. Some days I feel fluent and others like I’m in a French 101 class,” she wrote.

Read more: Don’t let age be an obstacle to pursuing better French

Top tips for learning French

Avoiding fellow English speakers and really getting to know your local French community is key for Sue Morton. “If you don’t integrate, (you’ll) never (learn). It’s the only way.”

French teacher L.C. Whitmore, who owns a second home in Normandy, shared some of her key tips for learning French.

It will take time

Ms Whitmore says many adult learners have one main challenge. “Generally they underestimate how much time and work is needed to master a language.”

She said beyond having lessons, either one-to-one or in a group, it is “critical” to “put aside quality time without interruption” to practise with examples, exercises and listening activities.

“Get as much exposure to the language as possible,” she said, as your French is competing with English 24/7.

Read more: Learning French: Five ways to push through the pain barrier

Patience is key

It is common to feel frustrated and this can hit our motivation when it comes to language-learning.

“Be patient, and kind to yourself, and don't set unattainably high standards… fluency won't happen overnight!” Ms Whitmore said.

Use the dictionary

“If you come across words you don't know but could be useful, take the time to look them up,” said Ms Whitmore. “It's so easy to skip words we don't know.”

Read more: Five reasons to learn French – and why they may help you pick it up

Enjoy it!

Let’s face it, learning French can sometimes be stressful. So try to remember to enjoy the process. The most important thing, Ms Whitmore said, is to make sure to “find opportunities to enjoy the language”.

Dip into French culture

Exploring everything French culture has to offer is also an excellent way to improve your French language skills. This also helps with the fun factor.

“As you become more fluent, try reading simple novels, doing simple crosswords, reading poems, listening to a favourite French singer, (and) watching French TV.”

Get your family involved

Learning does not have to be a solitary experience. In fact, making it a family affair can really boost your French.

“Have perhaps an hour a week when you and your family only speak to each other in French.”

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