One of the most frustrating parts of learning French is when you are a total beginner and just starting out. There are so many things to learn that it can be difficult to figure out exactly how to tackle the giant mountain that lies in front of you.
Fortunately for us French learners there are some learning hacks that can make tackling this mountain a bit easier.
Even if you aren’t a total beginner and already have some French experience under your belt you should still find some of these suggestions useful.
Let’s get started…
Start Learning French With the Most Commonly-Used French Words
How many words do you think exist in the French language? 10,000? 50,000? 80,000? Well, “Le Grand Robert Dictionary“, which is known as the largest and most complete dictionary of the French language, contains about 100,000 different words with three times as many definitions. No matter which way you look at it that’s both a lot of words and a lot of definitions to remember.
However, one thing that a lot of people don’t quite realize is that languages (French included) are very front-heavy in terms of vocabulary. All this means is that of all the thousands of words out there to learn if you just learn the first 2,000 or 3,000 most commonly used ones you’ll be able to say and understand the vast majority of things.
So take the time to learn these words as best as possible (even if you just get an idea of their meaning) and naturally you’ll be far ahead of those who just jumped in learning vocabulary at random.
Learn What You Need to Speak About Yourself and Your Experiences
This next step may seem obvious, but to too many people it certainly isn’t. When you first start learning French you want to learn about topics that relate to your everyday life and experiences. If you’ve read the article “How Long Does it Take to Learn French” then you’ll be familiar with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and how they categorize language proficiency into six levels. For the first few levels (A1, A2, B1) most of your fluency is going to be based on your own life and experiences so don’t delay learning these things.
These can be greetings, the weather, numbers, telling time and any other vocabulary or expressions that would be useful to you as a tourist in France or another French-speaking country. You won’t be able to climb up the fluency ladder if you don’t first learn these common elements.
Learn Everything You Can in Context
Remember how Le Grand Robert Dictionary had over 100,000 different words with even more definitions? Well as you may have guessed the French language, as well as all languages, have words that contain more than one definition. It would be incredibly difficult to simply memorize all these definitions, (or just the ones that you need to learn) which is exactly why you need to internalize all the definitions through context.
When you first start learning vocabulary if you’d like it’s probably okay to get familiar with the words through flashcards. However, at some point however you really need to learn everything in context.
This means that you should learn words through full sentences and complete sentences everywhere you can. By doing this you can start to pick up on the true definition of the word without even realizing it. One big problem that beginning learners face is that they translate everything into their own language, often by only one or two words.
Because French is a language that is completely independent from all languages around it (yes there are similarities with other languages, but at the end of the day it’s still it’s own language) not every single word is going to have an exact translation into another language. Some do, but not all. Because you are likely a beginner you won’t know which ones do have exact translations and which ones don’t so to be safe just learn as much as you can through context.
Don’t Learn Above Your Level
Here’s probably the number one reason that adults have difficulty learning foreign languages (and specifically more than children). It’s because they continuously learn content that is above their current level. If you are reading this article then you are likely able to consume content on a variety of complicated subjects in your own language.
Because of this you’ll probably want to quickly get to the same level that you are at in your native language so that you can consume the same type of content in French or whatever language you are learning.
This is exactly what happens when you go live in a foreign country as an adult. Because you’re not a child you’ll want to (and have to) quickly get up to the level of a native speaker who is your age because people will want to converse with you the same way they would converse with a native of your age. All of this is to say that when you try to learn too much above your current level you create gaps in your learning.
What you end up with is someone who has a good level of comprehension and can say most everything that they want to, but yet still makes a lot of mistakes when they speak and write. Most people are going to understand everything you say, but yet you still make tons of basic grammar mistakes that you should have ironed out a lot time ago. Because you’ve made these mistakes for so long they sound completely normal to you and would be difficult to correct.
When you are first starting out understand that learning French takes time. Don’t try to rush things. Slowly learn everything that you need to at your level before moving up the ladder. If you keep this one tip in mind you’ll be ahead of most other people around you learning French.
Learning any language from scratch is no easy feat. For many, the hardest part of learning a language is right at the very beginning because there are so many different things to learn it’s hard to know exactly where to start.
What advice would you give those who would like to start learning French? What did you do when you started that worked for you? Do you agree or disagree with what we have said here? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think.