Find Your Own Way to Learn French

Find Your Own Way to Learn French

If you learn French and wish to find your own way to learn French can be long and complex. Have you ever been discouraged from learning a new language because the process seemed to take too long?

Perhaps you have felt lost sometimes because there are as many learning methods as there are French tutors and each tutor has their own approach.

Some students who learn French and any other languages are visually oriented and need texts and transcriptions because it helps them memorize what they have just learned. Alternatively, those who are keen on a more structured approach to learning will ask to focus more on grammatical structures. If grammar frustrates you, maybe try a more conversational approach. There’s many ways to find your own way to learn French and there will always be a method that suits your learning style.

The Vocabulary-Based Approach


This method of learning is just like the way we learned language as a child: by associating words in the target language (the language you want to learn) with pictures or the objects they represent. This method stresses vocabulary acquisition by presenting the user with words and associated pictures, and encouraging learning through the repetition of that vocabulary.

Vocabulary acquisition is generally pretty fast. Pictures help visual learners memorize words. Repetition is stressed. But, at the same time, students using this method often neglect grammatical structures, and when they speak it is often not far removed from: “Me Tarzan… You Jane…”

The Grammar-Based Approach to learn French

French lesson with grammaire
French lesson with grammaire

For a long time, the most popular methodology for learning a second language was to focus on grammar and sentences before vocabulary. It goes without saying that this method has proven soporific for many students. The good news is that in recent years there has been a growing recognition that learning vocabulary first is a more successful approach.

There are varying opinions about the importance of understanding grammar within the language learning community. Some believe that a grammar-based approach is key to efficiently learning a language. According to this viewpoint, a deep study of grammar is essential for understanding the structure of the language. Without understanding grammar, they explain, you will never master totally French. I find this approach too conservative.

On the other hand, some believe exactly the opposite: grammar books are an unnecessary obstacle that slow down the learning process.

This is a false dichotomy. For most students the situation is far less black and white. On the one hand, it’s true that you can hardly speak French without mastering any grammatical structures. But it’s worth keeping in mind that children learn a language without any real conception of grammar, yet they are able to formulate sentences correctly in their native tongue. It has been internalized unconsciously.

From my own experience as a French tutor in Paris I always tailor the grammar learning process for each student. Some students become a bit reluctant when grammatical structures get more complex and even if they do understand the theoretical approach, they will never be able to use it in an everyday context. I consider it a waste of time to teach the subjunctive to someone who will never use it in a discussion. My focus is on expanding vocabulary or developing the conversational approach and avoiding complicated grammatical exercises that discourage and frustrate students.

The Communicative Approach

Communicative French lessons
Communicative French lessons

The communicative approach is based on the idea that successful learning language develops through having to communicate real meaning. When students who learn French are involved in real communication, their natural strategies for language acquisition will be used more spontaneously and this will allow them to learn to use the language more naturally.

Private tutoring allows for active interaction between the student and the French tutor. I practice a lot of questions and answers with my students and engage in conversation on different topics. The emphasis here is on quickly bringing the student up to speed in the language. Any topic can be a pretext for a fruitful conversation. For example, asking a student to give their opinion on a subject and using this as a way to reinforce their speaking skills.

Learn French With The Immersion Method

Another approach is known as the immersion method. The goal is to learn much the same way children do when they acquire a native language: by being with native speakers all day long with constant exposure to the language and absorbing it without a lot of explanation, generally speaking.

It has been scientifically proven that immersion expedites the learning process. Michael Ullman, a neuroscientist at Georgetown University Medical Center in the USA, demonstrated this using an artificial language of 13 words and two groups of students. One group studied the language in a formal classroom, whereas the other was trained through immersion. After five months, both groups retained the language, even though they had not used it at all, and both displayed brain processing similar to that of a native speaker. But there was one important difference. Ullman’s research showed that the immersion group displayed the full brain patterns of a native speaker.

One of my Australian students at French à La Carte recently embarked upon a five-day immersion course (six hours of one-on-one teaching each day). She completely immersed herself in the process and avoided any contact with English speakers for the entire week. After a few days, while out walking she discovered that all her thoughts were arising only in French. Immersion seems to be very a very good way to optimize cognitive skills.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA), immersion is the optimal method for learning a second language: “In traditional second language instruction, the target language is the subject of instruction. Immersion programs use the target language for instruction and as a means of communication. This authentic communication allows students to learn a second language in a similar manner to the way that they have learned their first.”