Learning French like a child is probably the dream of all French learners. After all, children learn languages effortlessly and in record time, right? Well, that’s what some people would have you believe.
The debate of whether or not children learn languages better than adults is something that has been debated for years.
No matter which side you take in this debate children definitely have some advantages over adults. Fortunately for us French learners, learning French the way children do is actually pretty easy and mostly revolves around changing the way you think about language learning.
Let’s take a look at some things you can do to learn French like a child.
Don’t Learn from Content that is Too Much Above Your Level
No, this doesn’t mean that you never have to strive to be better or study with content that is above where you’re at. However, what you don’t want to do is rush through your learning and study with content that is too far above your current level.
Due to a variety of reasons, children are able to learn at a much slower pace than adults are. The main reason for this is that people don’t place on them the high expectations that they place on adults. Nobody expects them to understand or speak about the complicated subjects that adults understand and speak about.
Children are free to sit back and learn about the basic subjects that they can understand without fear of being pressed to move up quickly. When you learn French as an adult however, people often expect you to be able to understand and converse at the same level as a native speaker who is your age.
Upon visiting France (or another French-speaking country) people might ask you questions such as “what do you think of the political climate of the country?” or “what’s your favorite region to visit and why?”. These sorts of questions would never be asked to a child because nobody feels that they would be able to hold a conversation regarding these topics.
If you try to quickly learn material or content that is too much above your level you end up creating gaps in your learning. When you create too many gaps in your learning you end up speaking broken French without even realizing it. Children almost never have these “gaps” as the pace at which they learn allows them to avoid skipping over vital concepts.
If you really want to learn French like a child then don’t worry about rushing through everything. For a while what you are learning may seem boring or unimportant, but it’s important to understand that you are building the foundation you’ll need to speak confidently without sounding like a broken mess.
Don’t Be Too Afraid to Practice Your French With Others
When you really think about it, one of the biggest elements that prevents learners from reaching their full potential is strictly a mental one. So many learners are simply afraid to go out and practice with others. When you’re afraid to practice with others how fluent can you really get? Children, not surprisingly, don’t really have this issue.
Nobody wants to be made fun of by native speakers for making grammar mistakes or for having a poor accent. For most people these are pretty reasonable fears and to some extent most of us have them.
However, it’s exactly these fears that stop people from achieving fluency in French. When you’re a child the fear of making mistakes or being poorly judged for your accent is completely foreign and typically doesn’t stop you from practicing.
If these fears don’t affect you at all then you are able to practice as much as you need without hesitation.
It is only when you are able to do this that you can really achieve fluency. Once you gain the confidence that comes along with fluency you’ll be able to practice a lot more without that fear you previously had.
Now for those of us who have this crippling fear of practicing with others, how exactly do you get the practice you need? For most people it’s not enough to just tell yourself not to be afraid, you really need some other advice to help you along.
Here are some suggestions to can help you to practice that will minimize the fear you have.
- Practice online where things are anonymous. Find a website where you can speak just through text first and then when you have more confidence move onto one where you can actually speak with the person. It shouldn’t be that difficult to do because most of the conversations that you’ll have will be simple small talk.
- Another way to get you to the point where you feel confident speaking French is to rehearse conversations at home. No this doesn’t mean you should just speak to yourself as you don’t want to get into the habit of making mistakes without knowing it. Look instead for content that contain dialogues between native speakers. You can find these in books, magazines (interviews), and even from transcripts of movies and videos. Read these dialogues out loud so that you can get a feel for what you may say in a real conversation with a French speaker.
- Gather as many French sentences together as possible and either write them down or just have them together in one place. Each and every day take the time to speak these sentences out loud first while looking at them on the page and then without looking at them. The idea here is that you will build up the muscles in your tongue and face so that you can speak these sentences easily without stuttering. If you do this enough you’ll slowly but surely build up the confidence you need to speak without hesitation. This process happens over the first few years of your life, but with a little time and dedication you can build these muscles up relatively quickly.
Don’t Think Too Hard About It All
This is something that I think most people have heard at some point in their language learning journey, but not enough people apply it when they study their French. If you want to learn French like a child you need to understand that language learning is not a creative process and that you shouldn’t try to find a reason for why things the way they are.
So many learners face road blocks because things don’t make sense to them. As many of you are aware children simply don’t learn languages like this. They are able to keep an open mind and take things such as spelling or grammar concepts at face value without asking themselves what the logic is behind them.
Most adults on the other hand often feel the need to understand each and every rule so that they can refer to them when speaking or writing.
One big reason why children are able to do this better than most adults is because they have less vocabulary and life experiences to compare everything to.
For example, When they learn the sentence « Je te vois » (I see you) they don’t think to themselves how weird it is because in English the word “you” comes after the verb “see”. They are just able to learn that that’s the way it is.
If you couldn’t tell already the idea here is pretty simple. Keep an open mind and try your best not to compare everything you learn with what you already know in your own language. As time goes on you’ll find that it’ll become easier to learn new things without translating them in your head but in the beginning this can be exceptionally difficult.
Place yourself in as much of an immersive environment at possible
Here’s something that people almost never think about when comparing child French learners to adult French learners. When people talk about how well children learn languages they are almost always talking about children learning in a country where the language is spoken.
Nobody ever talks about how well children learn languages in school because to be honest they don’t really learn them that well.
If you really want to learn French like a child then you need to put yourself in the same environment that a child would be placed in when they are learning a language. Because most people aren’t able to just pick themselves up and move to a French-speaking country (if you are then more power to you) you’ll have to bring the French-speaking country to you.
Although it may not be possible to completely immerse yourself in a French environment you can spend as much of your free time consuming French content. The more you are able to devote time to consuming French content the more progress you’ll end up making.
If you find that you aren’t making much improvement in your French studies the way you are going about it right now just keep in mind that when you were a child you literally lived in the country where the language was spoken 24/7. The more you’re able to replicate this the better you’ll fare.
Although nothing beats actually going to live in a French-speaking country, the language course Assimil does a respectable job at trying to place you in French culture. Probably the best part about it is that Assimil is a French company so you know that they really get the culture part down.
What strategies do you adopt to learn French like a child? Do you agree with the methods listed here? Comment below and tell us all about it.