Always wanted to learn a new language? Signed up for French language course, read every grammar book and pamphlet on how to speak French? And yet you still have trouble finding the motivation to learn vocabulary and do your grammar exercises for your next French lesson?
Here are some suggestions on how to make learning a foreign language fun!
Often, when you learn a language, you tend to concentrate too much on the words in your grammar books – vocabulary lists and French grammar rules explained in long, convoluted paragraphs. So how can you make French learning less frustrating and more enjoyable?
Distill your information to learn it better, and mix it up to help you truly memorize it! Beginners can use flashcards and sticky notes to good effect.
To learn your French vocabulary words, make stacks of flashcards with the French words on one side and the English ones on the other, and shuffle them so they are not always in the same order.
To learn them, you should look at the French and repeat the English word, or recite it the other way around. Or you can put sticky notes all around your house with the words for everyday objects and actions (for example, you might put “breakfast”, le petit déjeuner, at the table instead of la table; or cuisiner in the kitchen) until you are as familiar with them as with the objects themselves.
You can use flashcards in different ways to learn French. Photo credit: drcw on Visualhunt.com
To learn a language, you can also make flashcards for grammar. Distill the grammar rules to their essentials, put a verb and a tense on one side of the card and its conjugation on the other… there are many ways flashcards can help you with practicing your French.
You can also place French phrases cut out of books on sticky notes throughout your home to practice your understanding of French.
A good way for English speakers to improve their fluency in French is to write a little French every day. A good ways to do this is to buy a notebook, put your dictionary next to it and choose a subject to write about and specific times to do so. Some ideas would be:
You will at first be writing only in bullet points or simple sentences. (Hamlet est un Prince. Il vit au Denmark. Son père est mort.) As you progress from beginner French lessons to more advanced, you can write more complicated sentences and use the dictionary less and less.
It’s a wonderful way to improve your language skills and learn to write French without translating in your head.
The best way to learn a new language is total immersion. Living in the country is, of course, the ideal way to do so. You can take an extended trip to France or take part in an au pair programme.
If going to France is not in your budget, here are some learning tips for an immersive learning experience all by yourself:
Of course, to further your comprehension of your second language, you can also watch a French movie or read in French.
Find out more about the best ways to learn French.
When learning languages, it’s easy to get stuck in a textbook, relying mostly on memorization to improve your comprehension. But knowing all about the indefinite pronoun and verb conjugations or irregular verbs isn’t going to help you expand your vocabulary or teach you to understand the meaning of words in context.
Watching a French movie or TV series will.
Watching French films can help you improve your vocabulary through context. Photo credit: NichoDesign on Visualhunt
There are two types of vocabulary. This is true for a language you speak as a native speaker as well as for the different languages you might learn later – when you want to learn Italian, learn German or learn Japanese. They are:
French language learning often focuses too much on yet a third type of vocabulary: the one that is constantly being translated from French into English in your head. It’s all right in your beginner French language courses, but as you progress you want to learn to access your French words and expressions directly so you can chat in French comfortably.
Active vocabulary is drawn from the well of passive vocabulary. Speaking with a Frenchman beyond bonjour, merci and bonne chance, for example with a language exchange buddy, will help activate all those common words you learned in your French course.
However, before vocabulary really becomes intuitive, your brain needs to stop translating and start recognising and understanding – associating French words with a thing or action or emotion rather than with an English word.
The best way to do that is to immerse yourself in French. The more you improve your listening comprehension, the bigger the well of vocabulary phrases you can dip into when speaking.
A good way to do this is to switch the audio to French on well-known films and TV series. If you are familiar with the characters and plots, this will let you figure out the meaning of words in context. Knowing you can do so will also bolster your confidence for when you are ready to go out into the shops on your own and order a coffee.
Note that the French you will hear on the telly is more grammatical than that spoken in songs.
If you are still a beginner, you can still enjoy French dialogue with subtitles. If you can, though, you’ll want to listen to the same film or episode once with and once without subtitles, so you can slowly wean yourself from them.
Of course you can watch British television in French to improve your grasp of French phonetics, but it’s always easier if the words match the movement of the lips. We can highly recommend the series Lazy Company, a French comedy about a platoon of American soldiers who somehow bumble their way through D-Day and its aftermath.
Recent films to have come out are Demain tout commence (by the director of the heartwarming film The Intouchables) in which a young man from Marseille suddenly finds out he is a father.
Another is The Midwife with Catherine Deneuve, directed by Martin Provost, in which a midwife finds her whole life turned on its head when the maternity she works at closes and her deceased father’s mistress contacts her unexpectedly.
You can follow this link for more recommendations of French films for free French lessons.
If you want to concentrate on your reading skills instead, you might want to consider reading French newspapers or reading French children’s books or novels.
Though during a class your French teacher will probably give you short texts to read, a French newspaper is ideal for learning French at home. Newspapers cover a wide range of topics, ideal for expanding your French vocabulary. Since they need to be understandable to the wider public, most French newspapers have a simple prose that is nonetheless formal.
If you don’t want to subscribe to the physical edition of Le Monde or Le Figaro, a newspaper in French online would be the way to go.
Read the news in French to improve your French vocabulary. Photo credit: corno.fulgur75 on VisualHunt
Of course, the same is true of books. In a way, books are easier to understand as their narrative nature provides more context for words you have never encountered before. Beginners can start with picture books, as there is very little text, but intermediate French students might want to try children’s novels or Young Adult. There are some adult novels that aren’t too difficult a read, either, but here is a (non-exhaustive) list of some children’s books to get you started with your French lesson in this new learning style:
In addition, if you are bored by toddler books but can’t (yet) handle chunks of narrative, you can read French(-Belgian) comics. The pictures will help you in understanding the plot, and the short dialogue will help you understand French tenses and offer free French lessons if you are willing to try them out. Here are some French Bandes Dessinés to get you started:
French comics have a simple language and the pictures help you follow the plot – perfect for beginner French learners. Photo credit: Nika on Visual Hunt
If you are tired of reciting French irregular verbs in your language classes and are looking for other ways to improve your language skills, why not play some games? Games are a tried-and-true teaching method for improving the assimilation of a language. Here are some ideas for games for learning French in action.
Called “Baccalauréat” in French, the idea is quite simple. You settle on some categories (for example, we suggest: Country, animal, food, piece of furniture, the names for items of clothing…). One of the players silently goes through the alphabet until another cries stop, then says the letter they stopped at.
Then the other players try to find things that start with that letter for each of the categories. You get one point for each category you find a word for; no points for passes.
You can have as few or as many categories as you like, though five or six is usually a good number.
For example, if the letter is B and the categories the ones stated above, you could say:
Or for the letter S:
To play “Word Bits”, you will need an egg timer. First you need to photocopy some pages from a book in French or have a French magazine at hand (or you can print out pages from a French website). You then want to cut out French verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs. Try to have a nice selection. If you want to play often, you might want to consider pasting the pages onto cards before cutting them up.
Then you put all the words in a box or sack and shake them up well.
Every player draws three words and has to build a sentence around them within three minutes.
The sentence needs to:
When everyone has finished, the sentences are read out loud and the points are tallied:
At the end of each round, the words are put back into the sack and the next round drawn out of it.
The first player to reach 100 points wins. Tally in French to practice your French numbers!
Make sure you have a dictionary at hand when counting points to check for gender (dictionaries are not allowed while building sentences), and a grammar textbook to make sure each phrase is structured correctly.
A native English speaker can have spent days memorizing French grammar rules, get top marks in his French course and speak it quite fluently, but that doesn’t mean he will understand everything that is said when he takes a trip to France.
Many common phrases used by those for whom it is a mother tongue never make it to the textbooks, and the teachers at language school often forget to teach them. After all, the idea is for you to get around and meet your basic needs. But discovering the common words and phrases that everyone takes for granted but are Greek to a foreigner is one of the little pleasures of learning another language outside the classroom. Some French examples are:
So whenever you feel like your language course is useless, that you are going to study French forever before you learn to speak without a mistake – try out some of these tips to improve your French and come across as truly bilingual.