I started learning French over 20 years ago and persisted with it diligently, but for a long time learning French felt like the harder version of learning my other languages, like English and Italian. It’s just that little bit trickier: a little harder to pronounce, a little less seductive.
I never quite connected to that relatively formal French culture, saying Madame and reserving the jokes for a little later. My language level slid down a little from C1…but this year something changed. In 2017...
French came back into my life!
After my first visit to Montréal, I discovered the joys of Quebecois and the relaxed French-Canadian mannerisms that were so on my wavelength. And since moving to Canterbury in South East England, I suddenly started hearing a lot more of the language, bumping into French people, and visiting the French bakeries here.
French is spoken by 80 million people on every continent of the world, and I’m part of a huge community of French learners. In other words, I was able to re-connect to French and focus on how much fun it is to learn a language when we love the places where it’s spoken.
If you also feel a desire to improve your French, either build on old foundations or to start from scratch, check out the following resources to see how I added more French language into my life.
1) Adding French to My Podcast List
My go-to podcast in French is News in Slow French, a short show that takes up no more than 7 or 8 minutes. I also had a root around the French iTunes Store to find more interesting shows.
My usual podcast joys are true crime, languages, politics, and TV reviews so I added Whisperos, a French review show all about Game of Thrones. The great thing about podcasts is that they’ll teach me a bit more colloquial French, my total weakness after years and years of academic and secretarial studies in the language.
2) Reading in French for 10-15 Minutes a Day
People don’t read anymore? Nonsense! I believe that the text-based nature of the internet means that most people who own a screen read more than ever. My French education had always focused on reading formal language like business letters and Le Monde, so I went out of my way to look for texts with street cred on this one.
First, I added a subscription to the MademoiZelle feed to my list of blogs. Second, I went out and purchased magazines like Marie-Claire in French. So that was lots of casual, women’s mag style topics, perfect for keeping me interested.
…and Edu Cred
Third, a trip to the library sorted me out with the book 50 Ways to Improve Your French. Sometimes it’s nice to revisit language instruction and focus back on little linguistics points to improve and exercises that go with them. The book is split into different sections so that I only had to pick what was new to me (vocabulary and a review of irregular verbs, job done).
3) Working through Glossika
I actively sought out educational materials for French learners. I worked on Glossika 123 French to speak more - the majority of sentences were a little below my level, which allowed me to think on my feet and whiz through them.
4) Setting Goals and Making Them Public
As a busy person who is already tackling one main language (Welsh), it was important for me to make sure I actually commit to the time I was going to spend studying the French language.
I’m not someone who learns for over an hour every day, and I do not believe that daily hours of study are necessary for fluency. But having said that, the German saying von nix kommt nix (from nothing comes nothing) is also true. If I was going to get better at French, I had to spend a little more time and effort on it.
So in addition to looking for a few new resources that I was interested in, I also made the decision to be very public about my renewed French efforts. I set up my goals in the Language Habit Toolkit, printed them out and pasted them in my notebook.
The best thing about planning in this way was that I got to eliminate my background worries about how learning French would make it impossible to progress in Welsh, and instead I always had clarity on how much I was going to add in each language.
Posting the photo on Instagram may not be much of a public commitment for some, but for me this was really important. When I tell you guys I’ll do something, it’s just one more reason to keep going.
5) The Easiest Way My French Improved: Speaking to More People!
French is spoken all over the world, so you can look forward to connecting with people in this language anywhere from Canada to Sénégal, from France to Shanghai. Sometimes the French speakers do seem to hide a little bit though, so my trips to Canada and my move to Canterbury really made a difference.
Now, I hear French spoken in the street, at my office, and on the television. But that didn’t solve my conversations issue entirely, so I went one further and found regular text partners. I’ve not started video calling in French yet, but have high hopes for adding in a few conversation classes soon.
Keeping My Commitment
Before I started, a small part of me was grappling with the lack of excitement I was feeling. French wasn’t as hot as Welsh somehow, it felt like more of a chore. Adding interesting content and keeping the commitment to “little and often” helped me pull through and improve quickly.
I never aimed to read or listen to French for more than a quarter of an hour every day, but found that this made it a lot easier to get started. If you’re finding it particularly hard to get going, try my “ok then” trick and set a timer for just 10 minutes. It’s a lot better than ignoring French altogether and letting that guilt mount up in your head.
In conclusion, language should never feel like a chore…even if it does require some hard discipline now and then!
How Good is your French?
Are you a French learner, too? Have you been trying to master the language for 20+ years like me, or do you feel like you’re just starting to fly?
I’d love to hear your favourite resources and tips, so go ahead and leave a comment below.
By the way: If you're keen to improve your French grammar, check out Finally Get It in French Grammar, a course I'm teaching in the Fluent online school.