Worst Ways to Learn French [Don’t Do These]

When you think about it there are probably a million different ways to learn French, some better than others. We often hear about the best ways to go about learning French, but have you ever wondered about the worst ways? We’ve put together a list of some of the absolute worst ways to try and pick up the French language.

The only rule that we made for this list is that they have to be methods that people actually try and are commonly known, so you won’t find anything that’s too crazy here. Let’s take a look at some of the absolute worst ways to learn French.

Method #1 Asking Friends for Translations – This one is something that probably everyone has tried at some point in their lives. You want to know how to say something so you find your French friend how to say it and they tell you. Now if you are an advanced learner this may not be a huge problem. However, if you’re just starting out this is one of the worse things you can do. Let me explain… When you ask someone to teach you a word or phrase you have absolutely no context on what you’re being told. You have no clue how many words you’re being told, what each word actually means, or if you’re really pronouncing it all correctly.  

You’re simply memorizing the sounds that are coming out of someone else’s mouth. For the most part this simply doesn’t work because you have absolutely no comprehension of what you’re being told. You just associate a whole word or phrase with its supposed translation (and who knows how correct the translation even is). If you’re more advanced then you can typically pick apart what you’re being taught and use it to form new sentences, but when you’re starting out you’re just blindly repeating what someone says to you. Overall this is just an awful way to learn French.

Method #2 Through Music – Who doesn’t love discovering and listening to awesome French music? I know I sure do. However some people take this a little too far and make it a key strategy in their French learning. Other than possibly picking up a word or two now and then the truth is that you probably won’t listen yourself to French fluency anytime soon. It may seem like a good idea because it’s easier to memorize lyrics to a song than it is to memorize random words and phrases.

The problem is that song lyrics aren’t conversational and often don’t follow any sort of grammar rules. They typically aren’t something that you can just listen to and use in a conversation with a friend. Song lyrics are also hard to understand and don’t contain what some may consider “standard pronunciation” for words. None of these things are a big deal if you are already an advanced French speaker, but when you’re a beginner, and thus more impressionable, stay away from trying to learn from music and just stick to enjoying it.

Method #3 Through Google Translate (or other online translation websites) – To be 100% honest, I don’t think that Google Translate is the worst thing out there. It can provide you with decent translations for a lot of what you type in and can be a valuable tool for French learners. Despite this, it’s far from being flawless. The issue arises when you don’t know if what Google Translate gives you is correct or not.

When you are a beginner learner you don’t have any sense of what is correct or incorrect and will tend to believe anybody (or anything) other than yourself when they tell you what is correct. A lot of French beginners turn to Google Translate to verify that their sentences are correct and take whatever they see as gospel. However, until you are able to develop that internal sense of what is accepted and what isn’t I wouldn’t recommend using Google Translate as a part of your learning strategy.

Method #4 Passive Listening – The passive listening approach is similar to the “learn while you sleep” approach in the sense that it gives people in the impression that there’s a way to learn French without putting much effort into it. Unfortunately for us this is mostly just wishful thinking. When you first start learning French everything is just going to sound like noise.

You aren’t able to identify word from word or sentence from sentence let alone understand anything that is being said. It basically just sounds like a bunch of noise. As much we would all like to believe that you could just blankly listen your way to French fluency it just isn’t going to happen. Although listening is an amazing way to improve your language-learning abilities it has to be something that you put active work into. Passive listening can be useful if you just want the language to stop sounding so foreign, but when it comes to learning the language it’s all but useless.

Method #5 Practicing with Non-Native Speakers – Because it can be difficult to find native-speakers to practice your French with, people often elect to speak with their friends who are also learning French. This may be fun, but it may teach you a lot of mistakes as well as give you a false sense of fluency. If both of you are learning French then you are bound to make a lot of mistakes that you’ll internalize (meaning you’ll repeat them so many times they don’t sound wrong).

Another big problem with this is that your friend is likely to understand you better than a native French speaker because any mistakes that you make will still likely be understood because they know how and why you made that mistake. A native-French speaker doesn’t think in your native language so they may not understand where your mistakes are coming from. The point of this being that you may think that you can speak well because your friend understands you fine, and then be surprised when a native speaker struggles to understand you.

Method #6 Subtitles on Non-French Movies – Have you ever watched a movie you really enjoy and thought it would be cool to watch the French version of it? Sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? Well for the most part it isn’t. Learning a language is so much more than just memorizing a bunch of vocabulary and knowing when to use them. You have to really understand the culture before you can get a good handle on the language. This is because there are so many words, expressions, and traditions that may be difficult to understand if you don’t know where the background on them or where they come from.

Plenty of things have no direct translation and can only be understood by those who have seen and/or lived through certain experiences. When you watch a movie that isn’t in French and merely has French subtitles you are missing out on a huge part of the language. You don’t get to see what it’s really like to live in France (or whatever French-speaking country the movie takes place in) and from where certain aspects of the language are born. This is incredibly important when you’re first starting out because you likely have no comprehension of French culture and thus a lot of things aren’t going to make sense.

Once you get to the more advanced stages in your learning then switching to “foreign” movies with French subtitles should be fine, but in the beginning I’d avoid it completely.

******Honorable Mention******Using Flashcards for Vocabulary – This was isn’t nearly as bad as the others, but there is something to be said about it. I love flashcards and think that they can be extremely valuable in your language learning experience. What doesn’t work very well is using them for strictly for learning vocabulary (as opposed to full sentences). The reason for this is that a lot of words don’t have exactly translations and can’t be learned through one or two words on the other side of the card.

A lot of words also have different meanings depending on the context of the sentence they are in which also can’t be captured through one or two-word translations. There are thousands of free flashcards on the net that have this problem and can make it difficult to fully understand the vocabulary you’re studying. To counter this, vocabulary should always be learned through natural context which is where flashcards can be very helpful. Use your flashcards to learn full sentences or short paragraphs so that the full meaning of the vocabulary can be learned.

These methods are, in our opinion, the absolute worst ways to learn French.  It doesn’t mean that nobody can ever use them or see any benefit from using them, but overall it isn’t worth the effort for most people. What ways do you know of, or have tried yourself, that don’t work or that you wouldn’t recommend to others? Comment below and let us know. We’d love to hear them!