If you’re reading this article then you’ve likely wondered at one time or another what it takes to become fluent in French? Other than simply studying and practicing the language there are a few changes that you can make with your overall strategy that should help you achieve fluency quicker than you had previously thought.
No matter which way you slice it learning French is a long and arduous process. However, some people spend their entire lives learning the language never quite achieve the fluency they desire.
This article is written to tell you that this doesn’t have to be you…
We’ve compiled a short list of 5 adjustments to your French-learning strategy that you can implement right away that will increase the efficacy of your studies. Let’s take a look at them…
Learn the Most Important Stuff First
When you look at the broader picture there is an enormous amount of different things to learn in the French language. Fortunately for us French learners, languages are very front-heavy in regards with what you have to learn.
Take vocabulary for example… There are likely hundreds of thousands of total words in the French language, but if you can learn the most common two or three thousand then you can both say and understand the vast majority of everything.
Similar things can be said regarding phrases and expressions. Don’t treat everything you learn equally. Take the time to learn the most common words and phrases first and you’ll find that you’ll get to basic fluency incredibly fast. Click here to read the article “2000 Most Common French Words Found in Subtitles” for an easy reference on some of the most common French words you’ll find while watching movies and videos.
Learn French Grammar When it Means Something – Not Out of Context
Despite what some people may tell you, learning French grammar isn’t always a bad thing. A lot of language learners talk about how learning grammar is more or less useless and doesn’t do anything other than confuse the learner.
This is partly true because native speakers don’t typically learn grammar until AFTER they’ve spent a significant amount of time exposed to and already speaking their language. This is all just a fancy way of saying that although native speakers do indeed learn grammar, it’s not what they base their entire knowledge of the language on. That is to say that grammar is okay to learn when it more or less reinforces what you already know.
Learning complicated grammar rules out of context when they aren’t connected to what you already know is probably one of the absolute worst ways to go about learning French. Simply get yourself some serious French exposure so that you internalize the grammar and it will all just naturally start to make sense to you. It is then at this point that you can open a grammar book and start to look up the various rules. By doing it will help to solidify what you have already picked up from exposure. You’ll find that learning grammar when it reinforces what you already know it actually is a lot more enjoyable than if you started your language-learning journey by learning it
Get Your Nose Out of That Book
Reading is a wonderful and often overlooked way to improve your French. The best thing about it is that anybody can do it at pretty much any time and with an infinite amount of resources to choose from. Despite this, if you’re a beginner learner you probably shouldn’t spend most of your learning time reading.
Why is this you might ask?
Take a second and think about how you learned your first language? Did you immediately start reading as soon as you were born? Chances are you didn’t. So what did you do exactly? Well for a long time you did nothing but listen for the first few years. You then started to speak slowly but surely until you could hold conversations with others. It wasn’t until after you had a fair grasp of the language that you started to learn how to read.
For some weird reason however this whole process goes out the window when people try to learn a second language. When you focus too much on reading in your beginning stages you can actually cause yourself unneeded hardship. This is because in a language like French things aren’t always pronounced the way they are spelled. When you have already heard words spoken then you will have a much easier time recognizing them when reading. English speakers often pronounce French words like Nous and Vous as Nooz and Vooz and it’s exactly because they’ve done too much reading at the beginning of their studies.
Long story short, reading is great exercise for learners of all levels. Just don’t rely too much on it and don’t base your learning on it.
Speak As Often As Possible – But Not to Others
The absolute most neglected element of learning French is by far speaking. People are often intimidated by speaking because of the social aspect that comes with it. Nobody wants to risk embarrassment that can come from making mistakes in front of others. Because of this, language learners often allow their speaking ability to fall far behind all of their other language skills (reading, writing, and listening).
This leads people into a false sense of fluency because they can turn on the TV and understand just fine or open their favorite book and follow along no problem. However, when faced with speaking they tense up and can’t speak at all. It’s hard to say that you speak a language when you can’t put out more than a few words at a time.
How do you fix this?
The simple answer is to practice speaking, but not with native speakers…yet. Seeing as you are likely in your home country and not a French-speaking one then getting speaking practice with others is probably not something that you can get a lot of.
We get around this by speaking when we practice our other elements. Every time you read, write or even listen try your best to speak along.
Your speaking ability will take a lot longer to build up than your other abilities so you really need to practice every single chance that you get. After you feel that your speaking ability is at the same level as your writing, reading and listening abilities then you can go out and speak with others.
Not only will your conversations be more complete and fulfilling, you’ll have more confidence because you won’t be stuttering every five seconds.
Remember that being fluent doesn’t necessarily mean that you know everything there is to say, but rather that you are able to express yourself smoothly and comfortably. If you don’t know how to say a word or phrase, just ask your speaking partner. They will be a lot more likely to take you seriously if you are just able to speak with confidence, even if you ask dumb questions.
Study Your French Right Before Bed
Our brain takes in a lot of information throughout the day, most of which is not very important. One of its main jobs while we sleep is to decide what it wants to discard and what it wants to remember.
For a lot of us, much of our French studies get put in the figurative discard pile at night. If you want to have the best chance of remembering what you learn then you need to study right before you go to sleep.
There is a lot of science behind this, but all you need to know is that you want French to be the last thing on your mind before you go to sleep. If you are studying during the day you have a higher risk of forgetting it all before night comes.
This means your brain has less to sort through when you’re asleep. You don’t want this. You want your brain to have as much data as possible so that you have a better chance of retaining it each night. Each night you do this will make everything easier to remember come morning.
How Long Does it Take to Become Fluent in French?
It’s hard to say exactly how long it takes to become fluent in French, but fortunately there are studies that have been conducted that can help us at least get a ballpark figure. Years ago the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) put together a long list of languages and approximately how long it takes for the average English speaker to learn each one. They put each language into one of four categories with category one containing the easiest languages and category four containing the most difficult.
According to the list, all the languages in the first category take between 575 and 600 hours to become proficient in, whereas those in the last category take around 2200 hours. Which category does French find itself in? Category 1! This means that if you follow the steps above it shouldn’t take you more than a year or two to really get comfortable with French. Not that long at all!
What techniques have you employed you that have helped you achieve French fluency? Comment below and tell us about them!