1. First, identify your goals
If you wish to learn French faster, start to identify your goal. If you’ve planned a short trip to France your linguistic goals won’t be the same as those of someone who has been hired by a French company and needs to speak business French with colleagues and clients. At French à La Carte we tailor the learning process to the unique needs of each student.
- If you’re a tourist, you may only need a small and specific knowledge of the language (greetings, asking for directions, ordering and paying in a restaurant, speaking to a taxi driver, counting, being able to pronounce well enough to be understood by native speakers, etc.). French à La Carte offers a 10-hour program designed specifically for the linguistic needs of tourists traveling to France.
- If you are an expat living in France, you might need general French oriented towards basic communication in social interactions (shopping, ordering in a restaurant, speaking about your routine and daily life, doctor’s appointments, dealing with administrative formalities, interacting with locals in daily situations, etc.) and we can sometimes use a more conversational approach if your personal interests go beyond all of that (politics, culture, society, the economy, etc.).
- If you’re an expat living in Paris with a deep interest in French culture, and if your level in French is high enough (at least A2 or B1 level requested), the tutors at French à La Carte will immerse you in the French culture with learning material such as songs, poems, movies, and literature extracts, and, why not, take you along to art exhibitions where in addition to learning vocabulary related to art, you will also comment on the works and discover the artists.
- If you work in France for a French company and need to interact with French colleagues or clients, you might need to focus the learning process on business French and mastering Business presentations in French, professional email, and vocabulary related to your profession.
2. Find a French tutor
One of the quickest ways to learn French is by practicing with a native speaker qualified in teaching French as a foreign language and with significant teaching experience.
A good private teacher always adjusts the learning process to your needs; quickly identifying your strong and weak points, and must also be able to use English if necessary for a translation (this is from my perspective and not all French tutors share this point of view). But most important of all, the teacher must be dynamic, patient, and encouraging.
Don’t forget that interest, curiosity, and a desire to go further remain the fundamental basis for any learning experience in life. If you feel un-stimulated, you might be bored to death, and it will be difficult to learn.
At French à La Carte, all our tutors share the qualities mentioned above. These are our core values.
3. Learn the way that works best for you
To learn French faster, another great strategy for improving your learning is to recognize your learning habits and style. There are a number of different theories about learning styles that can help you gain a better understanding of how you learn best. When learning, some students will be more visual and need texts and transcriptions because it helps them memorize what they have just learned. Those who are keen on a very structured approach to learning will ask to focus more specifically on grammatical structures. If grammar frustrates you, try a more conversational approach. If you find textbooks tedious, try a book for kids, or a movie (if your level is at least pre-intermediate). There is always an approach that fits your learning style. At French à La Carte, we carefully design the learning program, taking into account the way students work best.
4. Try not to freeze up while speaking… and never speak in English
Many students do quite well during lessons and are able to interact easily with the tutor. However, when it comes to speaking with locals in everyday life situation, they suddenly freeze up, become shy, or nervous and are unable to continue the conversation. My first piece of advice is that making mistakes while speaking is not a big deal! (Although it is obviously better if you don’t!) Be aware that not only will locals not judge you, but also that they might even be grateful you’ve made an effort to speak their language. So, be brave, don’t give up and carry on speaking in French!
Many of my students have pointed out that often when they start to speak, or ask a question in French, locals will immediately answer, or continue the conversation, in English. This makes the opportunities that arise to practice French more difficult. My advice is to hold tight to your goal. Carry on in French, pretending, why not, that you are Finn, do not speak English, and only speak a little bit of French! It doesn’t matter if it’s believable, or not.
6. Repetition is Key
If you wish to learn French faster don’t be afraid to repeat or review several times what you have just learned. Learning a language requires motivation and work. Repetition is key in the process of memorization. Taking lessons with a private tutor, or on Skype, is the first step in learning the language, but isn’t enough. If you want to make the most of the opportunity, you need to review the lesson again, repeat the exercises, repeat the verbs ten, or more, times (there are many irregular verbs in French that you need to repeat again and again), and pronounce the same sounds until they become familiar and easy to pronounce correctly.
7. Be Careful of False Friends
You should be particularly careful with cognates: common words between the two languages. Many students think, “Ah, that’s easy, I know that one.” For example: assister (which doesn’t mean to assist, but to attend), rester (which doesn’t mean to rest, but to stay). There are many false cognates: words that exist in both languages, but don’t have the same meanings.
8. Try to Avoid Translations
When you are an absolute beginner, some translation is unavoidable, but try as much as possible not to use it too frequently. Translating adds an extra step and slows down the learning process. Many French students try to literally translate idioms, or even nouns, verbs, and grammatical structures, into their native language that do not necessarily correspond to the same meaning. Your brain is wasting time and energy, and will fool you into making a mistake when literal translation doesn’t work. For instance, voler (in English: to fly) is commonly employed in the sense of “to steal” or “to fly” for a bird, plane, or helicopter. But never for a human being. Unless you are Léonardo da Vinci experimenting with a flying machine! Yet, it is very common to hear French language students claiming “Hier, j’ai volé à Paris.” This would only be correct if they were a bird that had flown to Paris!
9. Take Advantage of Technology
Learning with a private tutor doesn’t mean that you’re forced to return to the age of dinosaurs, before the Internet era! Hiring a private tutor can be very effective in addition to online tutoring and the many French language-learning apps that have appeared in recent years.
With all the options below, learning online is easier than ever before. Of course, your local library is a useful option, but you can easily access a wide range of resources from the comfort of your own home.
- iTunes offers free 24/7 radio stations and podcasts that are in French (some for beginners!) and most cable packages will have at least occasional French programming.
- There are many apps for mobile devices that can help you memorize words—the most popular, LingLing, is based on regular repetition—spending 20 minutes a day you can memorize 750 words a month.
- YouTube has dozens and dozens of resources for French beginners.
“Amélie” isn’t the only French movie out there.
10. Learn with Movies
Watching a French movie—with, depending on your level of knowledge, English or French subtitles—is a fantastic way to improve your French. Listening to dialogue and conversations that you might encounter in everyday life is an effective learning process. Watching French movies can help you learn new expressions, expand your vocabulary, and improve your familiarity and fluency with French grammar. Movies are also a really engaging way to learn French, much more so than traditional learning materials.