Being able to have a French conversation is exactly what all of us French learners want.
After all, what use is learning a language if you aren’t even able to speak it with others?
The problem that a lot of learners face however is that they improve their French skills without improving their ability to hold a conversation.
This is because the abilities to do both of these often differ from what you would need in a normal every day conversation.
Many learners spend time in school listening to professors and maybe occasionally giving small speeches to classmates.
Both of these are great for improving your French skills, but often don’t help you very much in traveling to France (or another French-speaking country) and holding a legitimate conversation.
If the reason for this isn’t clear enough let me explain. The type of language (i.e. vocabulary, expressions, etc..) that is required to hold a conversation can be quite different than the formal or by-the-book French that is taught in schools.
There’s nothing at all wrong about learning this type of language, but regular old natives don’t generally use it.
Normal conversations are typically faster-paced, on various non-academic subjects and full of local and regional slang.
Basically, in many ways holding a French conversation is even harder than giving a speech because you have no time to prepare for what you’re going to face.
The only way to truly be prepared is to learn as much as possible about every subject you can think of.
Let’s take a look at some things that you can do to not only help your overall French abilities, but specifically to improve your ability to have a conversation in French.
Have French Conversations With Yourself
A lot of people out there recommend that in order to get better at having conversations you need to spend time speaking with yourself.
This may seem silly, but believe it or not it totally works. However, there is one problem with this which most people never even think about.
If you simply have conversations with yourself you aren’t going to ever know if you are making mistakes.
If you make a lot of mistakes without someone to tell you about them, you make it a habit that can be difficult to correct.
So instead of just having conversations with yourself go out and and find conversations that have already happened between native speakers.
You can easily find conversations in books, newspapers, and even in subtitles of movies or YouTube videos.
Gather these conversations (as many as you can) and practice them out loud if at all possible. It’s important that you play both roles in the dialogue (or all parts if there are more than two people) and speak naturally and confidently as if you were having a real conversation.
The more you do this the more you’ll make it a habit to speak like this with others. It’s also important that you gather as many conversations as possible with as many registers (levels of language) as you can.
You don’t want to only practice using conversations with a lot of slang, or conversations that would be considered very formal by natives.
Using this technique is an absolutely amazing way to get one-on-one practice with native speakers without having to actually go out and find people to practice with.
Find the sources that provide you with quality dialogues and go back for more once you’ve gotten fairly familiar with the ones you already have.
Read Content That Contains French Conversations
Similar to the previous point, it’s important to read content that contains a large amount of dialogue.
Because you won’t always be in a situation where you can speak out loud the conversations you have gathered, you can simply read them to yourself.
Probably the best forms of such content are comic books and graphic novels. Not only do these contain pretty much nothing but dialogues, but they also contain a lot of the slang and expressions that average everyday people on the street use.
Learn the Most Commonly-Used Words
Here’s something that will probably help you have a conversation more than anything else in this article.
One thing that a lot of people don’t realize about language learning is that the process is very front-heavy.
This means that of all the different words out there if you just learn the most common two or three thousand you can both say and understand the vast majority of everything.
So what’s the takeaway from this? If you’re a beginner French learner (or even just looking to start learning) avoid the temptation to learn vocabulary at random or vocabulary that is on subjects that interest you.
Once you get past the beginner stages there is nothing wrong with learning vocabulary like this. However, in the beginning just stick with most commonly-used words and that should get you to the point where you can hold a basic conversation with a French native.
Listen to Content That is Faster than the Conversations You’ll Have
One big problem with listening to a lot of the content that is made for French learners is that it is deliberately slow.
This is obviously so that the learner, whose comprehension is likely not very strong, can understand what’s being said.
When you’re a beginner this is generally pretty helpful as if you were to listen to content that is much too fast you not only wouldn’t understand much, but you would probably just get frustrated.
However too many French learners stick with the slow learning content too long and never actually get used to the speed that actual native speakers speak at.
How many times have you heard others say that it’s difficult to understand foreign speakers of any language because they speak too fast?
If you’re like me you’ve heard it probably a million different times. As I’m sure you’ve figured out the majority of native speakers of any foreign language don’t actually speak that fast.
The reason why they appear to speak fast is because those learning the language haven’t had enough listening practice.
In order to overcome this as best as possible here’s one technique you can do. Head on over to Youtube and find some French content that you enjoy watching, but that you maybe don’t understand as well as you would like.
Listen to a video of your choosing on .5x speed, .75x speed, 1.00x speed and then 2x speed. Make sure that you are able to fully understand what you’re listening to before moving to the next speed.
Why should you listen to your content on 2x speed? The answer is easy. Because for the most part nobody you will speak to in the real world will speak as fast your video will so if you are able understand videos at 2x speed then understanding somebody in a normal conversation will be a piece of cake.
Having a conversation with a native French speaker is, not surprisingly, one of the most important parts of learning French.
Too many French learners neglect their conversational skills instead just focus on improving their French in other areas.
If you follow some of the steps mentioned above your French conversational skills will not only improve, but you’ll find yourself conversing with others in no time.
What do you think? If you’ve been able to achieve French conversational fluency how exactly did you go about it?
Do you agree or disagree with the techniques discussed above? Why or why not? Comment below and tell us all about it.