Tips for Learning French

Rachel Hanson
Travel to France to Learn French

There are many tips for learning French that will make you learn the language not only faster, but also better. Some of these tips refer to how you learn vocabulary, while others focus more on the pronunciation of French words since French pronunciation can be difficult for Anglophones.

Learning the Basics

You can learn the basics of French by taking an introductory course in French. However, many people recommend taking some steps before you take an introductory course. This may sound counterintuitive; however, many people claim that when learning a language like French, where the correspondence between what is written and what is pronounced is so small, that hearing a lot of French and getting accustomed to it is the first step that one should take.

If you would like to take this highly-recommended step before you start learning French formally in the classroom, go to your public library (or university library if you have access to one), and check out a bunch of audio materials in French. Choose some French movies, music, and anything else you can get your hands on. Watch the movies with the English subtitles on so that you're getting immersed in French sounds, but you can still follow the plot of the movie. Play the music in the background when you're cooking or doing other activities. Don't bother listening to the music with the French lyrics in front of you-that is unnecessary in the early stages.

This is the easiest method to discover how to pronounce French words. The idea is not to learn to pronounce individual words in French, but rather to develop an inventory of French sounds. Keep listening to everything and anything for as long as you can before attending your first French class or working in a French textbook for the first time.

Tips for Learning French in the Classroom

Once you get into the classroom, you will have little to no control over what happens in the classroom; however, you will have total control over how much time and effort you invest in doing your homework and learning French in between class sessions. The golden rule of learning language is: Always go to class, and always do your homework. What's more, while you're doing your homework and sitting in class, ask questions when you don't understand something. If you don't know what a word is, look it up in the dictionary…but when you don't understand something, ask your teacher. These questions, and the answers that go with them, are what will help you advance in French each and every day.

If you can, invest in a book to conjugate French verbs-the Bescherelle is the most common one. Like a dictionary offers definitions of virtually every word, a conjugation book offers conjugations of virtually every verb. Whenever you read or write as homework (or for pleasure), keep both a dictionary and a conjugation book beside you.

Try to avoid the common tendency to use translation tools to understand French you encounter or to write something in French you need to produce. While translation tools can offer some help with vocabulary words, they seldom do a good job with syntax and semantics. An online translator may help you produce a long text, but it will be, most likely, inferior to what you would have produced had you written the text yourself. Give yourself time; don't expect to be able to write a page-long essay after taking one French class.

Traveling and Learning

For those looking for adventure or to experience the real French culture, traveling to France is a great way to learn French. Whether you would like to stock up on tips for learning French from the natives in Paris, or you'd like to learn the correct pronunciation of croissant from a baker, traveling around France is a great opportunity. Not only will you absorb the language from all sides, but you will also experience the culture and the beautiful landscapes that make up France.

If you are traveling to France primarily to work on your French, remember that many people speak English in Paris, so you should travel beyond the capital in order to expect to get to practice all the vocabulary and grammar you've worked so hard to learn. Visit the sites in Paris, and then head to another popular spot: whether you want to see the French Riviera or explore the Normandy beaches, all the regions provide the opportunity to practice your French.

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Tips for Learning French