Learning a new language isn’t easy, and French is no exception. If you really want to become fluent, it’s not enough to simply learn your vocabulary flashcards, recite your French verb tables and puzzle over French grammar. You might take French courses and study hard, but that’s not enough to get you talking like a native.
To really learn to speak a language, there is only one way to do it: immersion. You need to speak and read it regularly until it becomes automatic. Think of it like a martial art: you need to constantly practise your forms until they are so much second nature that you can use them in combat without having to think about it. You also need to surround yourself with French until the time comes when you find yourself in France and answer a question automatically.
So how can turn your intermediate-level French into something spoken like a native?
Obviously, a good way to learn French is to take French lessons. But what should you prefer? Should you take French classes, online French lessons or learn French with a private tutor?
If you want to learn French fast, a group class is not entirely ideal. That sort of class doesn’t flow at your pace, but at the teacher’s. A good teacher, of course, will adjust his or her teaching style to his students, but with a large class there is only so much he can do.
But for a beginner in French, it is still better than home study. A French lesson will give you a goal: learn that vocabulary by the next class, do your grammar exercises, master that set of irregular verbs. Also, being in a group means that you have a support structure. Other students will be there. You can get together to study, review and do your homework. You can show each other memnotic tricks and be comforted by the fact that others have the same problems that you do.
If you do decide for group French lessons, here are a few things to consider:
You can learn how to speak French in a classroom, or taken private French lessons. Photo credit: MIKI Yoshihito. (#mikiyoshihito) on Visual hunt
Obviously, a one-on-one tutor will better be able to both challenge and motivate you. Unfortunately, a private language coach will be more expensive, but it will come with immense benefits.
Again, when looking for a private tutor, you should look for a native French speaker. The obvious choice, since you’re here on our blog, is to try one of our Superprof tutors for French lessons near you. You can even get free French lessons – or one, at least, as most of the Superprof coaches offer their first lesson for free.
If by some chance you cannot find a suitable candidate on Superprof, there are other possibilities. You might want to advertise at your local university for native speakers studying in the UK. Students are often in need of money and might be willing to help you study French. The advantage is that students can still remember the grammar lessons they learned at school.
If you have already been learning French as a second language for awhile and are mostly eager to improve your fluency, you might want to look for students as a language partner, instead.
Once you have the basics, learning how to speak French is about improving your stock of French words, becoming more fluent and bettering your understanding of the French language. And the only way to do that is to speak French and hear spoken French.
One option is to go abroad – take a French immersion holiday, or live in France as an au-pair or even take part in a language exchange program.
Don’t just have conversations ABOUT French – have them IN French with a French language exchange partner. Photo credit: melina1965 on VisualHunt
But here in the UK, where can you speak French on a regular basis?
One possibility is to find yourself a French language partner – someone whose native language is French and who is trying to learn English.
Ideally, you meet up regularly and talk for half the time in one language, then in the other. Or you might decide to keep it to one language per meeting. Either way, speaking French regularly – beyond “s’il vous plaît” and “merci” – will greatly improve your French dialogue, help you negociate your tenses and teach you new French words and phrases.
You can team up with a native speaker through flyers or postings on the notice boards of your local university, French consulate or French language institute (such as the Alliance Française), or else try online websites such as italki or wespeke.
Remember safety when meeting your new language partner for your first French conversation: choose a public place and make sure you tell someone where you are going!
Outside of your French courses, there are a lot of little tasks you can do to keep studying French throughout your day.
One way to improve your French vocabulary and learn to use French phrases more fluently is to keep a language diary.
A language diary is quite simply a summary of your day in that language. Don’t worry, no-one is expecting you to write “Bridget Jones” in French. You can keep a diary even at the beginner French level – your diary will grow with you.
To begin with, you can write down your day in bullet points. You choose what you want to include. Want to learn new words for food? Use this opportunity to look up the words “céréales” and “jus d’orange” in the dictionary and write down what you had for breakfast. Want to improve your work-related vocabulary? Write down what you did at work:
Then, as you advance to intermediate French, you can write short phrases to describe your day:
Here, you are already using French verbs in their correct conjugation, and have even used a sentence with a possessive, and another with a direct and indirect object.
Finally, at a more advanced, fluent level, you will write short paragraphs or essays:
Amélie a appelé pour me parler de son projet. On a discuté et nous avons trouvé un moyen de résoudre nos problèmes. Ensuite, j’ai tapé le résumé de la conférence que j’ai envoyé à tous les participants par courriel. Finalement, j’ai écris la lettre au directeur à propos du poste de sous-directrice où il avais demandé mon avis sur l’une des candidates.
Amélie called to tell me about her project. We talked and found a way to resolve our problems. After that, I typed the summary of the conference, which I sent in an email to all the participants. Finally, I wrote the letter to the director about the position of deputy head, as he had asked for my advice on one of the candidates.
By doing this, you increase your comprehension of grammar and vocabulary and practise your French daily.
If you want to increase your understanding of spoken French and bring you conversational French to the next level, try watching French series and films. If you like, you can start with dubbed versions of films you already know, as you don’t have to understand the plot and can focus on the dialogue. Don’t hesitate to put on the subtitles for a translation at first, but consider changing to French subtitles once your French reading is up to it.
Immerse yourself in the French language by watching films in French. Photo credit: bump on Visual Hunt
Another way to learn French online is to read and watch French news. You can look up the online versions of French newspapers such as Le Monde and Le Figaro.
This site offers news stories in various formats, both audio and written, in a simple language for intermediate-level French lessons of a kind you don’t get in class.
News in Slow French is a French-speaking news site that has audio files with a transcript, so if you don’t understand the French words or phrases just by listening, you can find the words in the transcript and look them up in the dictionary.
News items are great for learning a language because you learn vocabulary from very varied walks of life. You also find out more about French culture and practise your grammar.
If the news isn’t for you, why not follow French blogs or subscribe to French magazines about your favourite hobby?
Read French magazines to improve your vocabulary. Photo credit: cesarharada.com on VisualHunt.com
Hopefully, these little tips on how to learn French fast have helped you on your road to becoming truly bilingual. As you learn to find new ways to incorporate speaking French into your everyday routine, you will soon find your language skills improving and your understanding of French language and culture.