Salut, tout le monde!
Perhaps you’ve just started learning French or have already been learning it for years. Either case, you’re probably interested in getting better at it, so that you can use it when you visit France or just for personal reasons.
Granted, it can be hard to learn French, let alone improve on it. For me, I’ve been learning French for almost ten years, and I still wouldn’t say that I’m fluent in it, even after studying abroad and living in the country for a considerable amount of time. French is definitely one of the more difficult Romance languages to learn, as well as hard to keep up with if you don’t have the resources or motivation to do so. I admit, I’ve been pretty bad at keeping it up this summer back at home in the U.S., but have been doing little things like writing regularly in French, communicating with my French friends on social media (Facebook, Skype), and watching French videos online. Heck, I continue to count my workout reps in French, too! Even if it’s minimal, at least it’s better than nothing, right?
But I digress. Inspired by my lack of French practice this summer, I’ve decided to make a list of ways to improve your French, whether you’re a novice or someone who’s been learning for a long time. I’m hoping that these tips will inspire you, as well as myself, to get back on the French track, and become better prepared for the next time you (and I) return to France! Allons-y!
1. Don’t be afraid. If speaking French is your weakest point (which is mine), it’s important to know that being fearful of speaking will not help you improve your French. Sounds like an obvious, but still, it’s understandable that the fear of messing up in front of native speakers can be debilitating, especially when you believe that they will judge or, even worse, laugh at you. I’ll be honest and say that, while those things are bound to happen (they did for me), don’t let them bring you down. If anything, use them as a way to push yourself and continue to speak, mistakes and all, with others.
2. Find native speakers to practice with. Sure, you can practice with your classmates or teachers in French class, but know that it won’t be the same with native speakers in terms of certain words, expressions, and accents. With the number of language-exchange apps and websites out there today, it’s easier than ever to find a French “pen pal” to practice with; I’ve found a few of my French friends on MyLanguageExchange.com, and through that have continued to communicate via Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype, and other social media platforms. Having a native speaker, even a virtual one, to practice with will definitely help you improve your French, since they can correct your mistakes and whatnot. At the same time, you can help them improve their English, if they want!
3. Switch your settings to French. Whether it’s your social media apps like Facebook or Instagram, or even your entire computer, forcing yourself to immerse in the language as much as you can will slowly rewire how you process and think about things. At first, you might be unsure where the “login” option is for your account (fyi, it’s “connexion”) and you might accidentally click on some things without knowing what it means (and creating some minor chaos), but once you become familiar with it, you’ll have no problem!
4. Read (a lot). Whether it’s books or daily news online, reading in French will be a great way not only to keep up with the language, but also keep up with current events in the Francophone world. Especially when much of our news in the U.S. focuses on issues only pertinent to us (e.g. the Middle East, domestic issues, the presidential elections *ahem), hearing about other news going on in France, the EU, and Africa (many of which are former French colonies) really exposes us more to what other people are talking about, as well as shows that, well, the U.S. isn’t the center of the world (although I’m sure that every country thinks they are, even France!).
As for books, you don’t necessarily have to read those old classics that you were forced to read in school, especially if you hated them. It can be as simple as picking up a children’s book (Le Petit Prince is a popular one), or reading Harry Potter in French; considering that you’ve probably already read the latter in English, knowing the characters and general story line will make the reading process go by smoother! Even your favorite manga or comic strip have probably been translated into French, so it’s a matter of searching!
5. Watch/listen (a lot). France dubs a lot of popular Anglophone shows on television (for what reason, I don’t know), so why not give them a try? From TV series to films to current popular music right now, there’s a lot to check out!
For me, I tend to watch short video clips on Youtube of French speakers, since I often don’t have the time or attention span to sit through television programs or movies. There are the popular ones like Norman or Cyprien, but also smaller personalities, too. While listening to native speakers talk in *often rapid* French is the best way to go, watching Anglophones speak French isn’t a bad idea, either- more often than not, they’ll speak slower, use less argot, and be more relatable to us, considering that they were once just like us with learning French.
Unfortunately, I don’t listen to a lot of Francophone singers, but the classics like Edith Piaf and Joe Dessin are good to start with. Quebec singers like Coeur de Pirate and Les Trois Accords aren’t bad, either, even if they’re not “truly French.” Heck, you can even try Celine Dion, back when she sang in French (pourquoi pas?)!
6. Write (a lot). While my French speaking and reading skills definitely need brushing up, I consider my writing to be the strongest. Considering that I naturally write a lot in English, it has translated over to that in French. Most of the time, I write to my French friends, usually when we’re chatting on Messenger or Skype. I also run a blog where it’s written entirely in French. While I’m sure that I make errors from time to time, learning how to write well is good for better communication with others which over time leads to improvement!
7. Don’t use Google Translate. While it’s fine for translating isolate words and some expressions, don’t expect Google Translate to transcribe entire paragraphs and essays into correct French. More likely than not, your essay will be riddled with awkward wording, inaccurate sentences, and overall just terribly-interpreted passages. While I’ve never used Google Translate for that kind of writing, I’ve seen many of my peers use it…and get called out for doing so.
When I was teaching in France, I saw the same thing happen with my students, albeit on the flip side: when working on a writing assignment in class, they would use Google Translate on their phone (which is kind of interesting, since one shouldn’t have their phones out in class. But that’s another issue), and it would come up with some of the weirdest translations out there. I’ve almost laughed at how horrible they were, but of course I had to correct them with a *more accurate* translation using my own words.
If anything, use an actual online dictionary, instead of Google Translate, to translate certain words and expressions if you’re really feeling stuck. I recommend WordReference.com, which has lots of different languages to translate into, as well as a conjugator for those tricky verbs in French! While it won’t cover all of your translation problems, it’s a much better program than Google Translate.
8. Visit (and live) in a Francophone country. Perhaps you speak French regularly with your friends from overseas, read a lot of French books, and write a lot in French. While all of those are great ways to keep it up, having the opportunity to go abroad to France or other French-speaking countries (e.g. Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, the DOM-TOMs, etc.) will give you that extra boost in improving your French. Since you’ll be totally immersed in the language 24/7, you have no choice but to communicate in French for the majority of the time. Plus, you actually get to learn more about the culture than through a textbook back in school, which aids you in understanding and retraining your brain not only to speak in French, but also think like a French native.
9. Be consistent. As the old saying goes, your brain is a muscle that gets weak when you stop training it. This applies to learning foreign languages; if you’re like me who hasn’t been regularly keeping up with French this summer, then it’s guaranteed that it’ll be a struggle trying to get back into it later on. Taking a few minutes out of your day every day to watch some French videos or read a passage from a French novel helps you develop a good habit and that’s how you can continue to pursue your knowledge of the French language.
Do you have any more tips on how to improve your French? Let me know; I would be curious to find out!