“If you live with people and you share a life with them and you speak their language, they trust you.” – Peter Rohloff, MD, Wuqu’ Kawoq (Maya Health Alliance) I have always found languages to be beautiful. Having learned to speak seven languages – some of them fluently, and others at a more basic level
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According to the Pareto principle or the 80-20 rule, you can use 20% of the effort spent on learning new vocabulary for 80% comprehension in the language. That means that by learning the most frequently used vocabulary first, you are able to understand and communicate in a language much faster. One again, the internet is your friend here, and there are countless sources that provide lists of the most frequently used words in each language that can help you start your learning the practical way.
Stick to quality sources. Your sources don’t all have to be broadcast by Canal+, but stay away from more casual YouTube videos of people partying, filming natural disasters, etc. These can be funny but don’t always contain the most reliable content and, as you probably already know, they can take a sudden turn for the tragic or the gross.
How much time you can dedicate to learning French. You should ideally set aside a little bit of time to study French every day, although this time may vary. Even just 10 minutes a day can be helpful, but keep in mind that the more time you can dedicate, the better.
Considering French is considered by some to be among the world’s “hardest languages” (yes, seriously, Parisians will insist on this; luckily, you’ll get a lot more encouragement in the rest of France, Belgium, Switzerland and definitely in Quebec), I think a change in attitude is in order, so that those of you learning this language can get a bit of encouragement!
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Likewise, 2 months, 2 weeks, or 10 days isn’t really indicative of the amount of time and work you need to put in to learn French. These timelines are merely attention-grabbers that aren’t promising you “instant skills,” but are rather promising the basics in as short a time as possible. This can be done through the use of learner-friendly teaching methods and by teaching you the most practical vocabulary and grammar first. It will, however, take much more time to be able to fully converse in French in a variety of different situations.
Story is context, and context is key. Once you have your source material, arrange it into usable segments. If you’re using a movie, try not to break it up mid-scene or leave out a lot of content between sentences. Aside from this, you can use as much or as little of each source as you like. I might advise against designating the French-language Lord of the Rings box set as your one and only source, but if you’re really determined then I wish you luck on your journey.
You have to get used to what in English we call the ‘w’ words: what, where, when, why, who, how: “quoi” , “où” , “qui” , “quand” , “pourquoi” , “comment”. You should get used to those at the beginning of your studies, as they are essential for making statements and asking questions. Try Google Translate to see what the corresponding words and structures are in French to questions you have in English.
I’d say the best to learn a language in immersion is beeing an au-pair! My step-sister works in a french school in Paris and she noticed the improvement of au-pairs coming to learn french. The immersion is complementary to the courses they have at school.
After a while, you’ll find yourself using words and constructions that you didn’t even study thanks to your brain’s ability to soak up vocabulary and grammar while reading a book or watching a series.
French also uses an imperfect tense—the imparfait—which has only one set of endings (unlike Spanish), contains only one exception (être, meaning “to be”), and is used in exactly the same way as the Spanish imperfect. In order to form the imparfait, take the present indicative Nous form of a verb, slice off the conjugated ending, add the imparfait ending, and voilà! You’re in business.
If you are more advanced, read out loud over the voice that is reading, and study how your pronunciation differs. Pay close attention to the word grouping, where the reader breathes, and don’t forget to respect the liaisons and the eventual glidings.
As a language nerd, I’m a big fan of Benny Lewis, whose “Speak from Day One” approach should be, I think, language-learning gospel. He’s written several posts about why learning Czech, Turkish, German, Mandarin Chinese, Hungarian, and other languages is not as hard as you think. His point is that with the right attitude and approach, learning a new language—despite what detractors might claim—is never as difficult a task as it’s often made out to be.
There are abundant grammar resources on the web. Find the ones you find most useful and use them when you are curious about something. Getting used to new grammar patterns takes time. You don’t learn it the first time, not even the fifth time. But eventually it becomes second nature, believe me.
SMART goals, as advocated in world of management, are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. In order to best apply this concept to your French studies, it’s recommended that you become a little familiar with the European Common Framework that defines the different language levels.
Very early on you need to master the precise vocabulary and the modern pronunciation of French politeness expressions. The French are known to be sticklers on etiquette and you do not want to start off on the wrong foot. Unfortunately French people will expect you to know these expressions, and they don’t realize it’s hard.
Once you have quite a wide vocabulary, you can start translating things you see every day in your native language. You might listen to a song and as you are doing this, start thinking about the words and tenses you would need to translate this into French. The same can be said for road signs, menus or even conversations. Although this might sound tedious, sometimes you’ll think of a word in your native language and realize you don’t know the French equivalent. This is a good way to keep your skills up and to make sure you don’t forget things.
In most French-speaking countries it’s considered good manners to greet everyone. So, whether you’re speaking to a clerk, a waiter, or just bumping into someone on the street, take the time to say a polite bonjour before you proceed. This also means that when step on the bus or train you should say a quick bonjour to anyone within hearing distance.
French Today has lessons and audiobooks that focus on teaching French the way it’s actually spoken first and foremost. Using their materials, you can become familiar with grammar and vocabulary concepts while also developing an understanding of what that grammar and vocabulary really sounds like in action.
This beginner French method is framed around an actual story featuring realistic characters and dialogues so that you’ll have fun along the way and feel your progress as you follow the characters from chapter to chapter.
Some websites offer free interactive learning material, like Duolingo and Memrise, but programs like these focus on writing and reading at the expense of listening and speaking. They also rely heavily on user-generated content, which means the quality is inconsistent and the accuracy of the information goes unverified. It’s possible to learn French online for free, but be prepared to deal with language lessons that are dull, inflexible, too basic, poorly designed, or else littered with ads.
We add new courses on a regular basis so the opportunities to learn and improve are always growing. And if you own an iPhone, Android, or Windows 8 phone the key to speaking French is already in your pocket.
Like all romance languages, French has a few difficulties for prospective speakers. There are more verb forms (17, compared to the English 12) and gendered nouns (le crayon, la table). Pronunciation is especially difficult in French, with vowel sounds and silent letters.
When my friend Anthony Lauder introduced me to conversational connectors a few years ago, they blew my mind. They’re a great technique for sounding more like a native speaker, for removing the awkwardness from conversations, and for giving yourself time to recall vocabularly.
The main advantages to Rocket French are that you get a very complete selection of audio lessons taught by native speakers. Furthermore, you get lots more features which don’t exist on the free sites such as interactive games and quizzes. Also, you get access to a forum where you can make friends with other people who are also studying French and get your questions answered. For more information you may read our full Rocket French review where you’ll find a video giving a full inside tour of the course!
Another great resource that you may use for learning French quickly are podcast websites. This sites have lots of free podcasts. A podcast is simply an audio French lesson stored on an audio MP3 file. You may visit iTune’s website and download individual lessons directly to your PC, laptop or iPad. Additionally, a great place to discover online podcasts is our learn French by podcast page!
You French learning goals. Would you like to dedicate an equal amount of time to all language learning skills? Or are you more interested in speaking and listening than reading and writing? If you plan to prioritize some skills over others, make sure to incorporate this into your plan.
Spaced Repetition Systems (SRS). SRS is a great method for memorising vocabulary and phrases using virtual flashcards. My favourite SRS tool, Anki, is free and allows you to create your own flashcards, so you can build a deck from your personalised French phrasebook.
Learning a language can sometimes feel boring — like an exercise in monotony. What lends to this monotony, more often than not, is the rigor and regimen that comes with it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing discipline here, I’m just questioning the misplaced investment of time and efforts most language learning regimens call
This is a good phrase to clarify or to ask for clarification. If you hear what someone says but it doesn’t make sense to you, you can get them to rearrange their thoughts using different French you might better understand.
If you think that’s confusing, you’re right. The good news is that when you meet someone for the first time, you can usually just shake hands. Then just watch how other people interact. Because it’s such a common practice, you should quickly be able to determine what the standard is where you’re staying.
You can guess some words out of the context, but the idea here is not to train your understanding capacity, but train your speaking ability: work on your pronunciation, memorize common sentences and expressions, get the courage to speak out loud.
Ça va? (literally “it’s going?”) asks someone how things are. The usual response is ça va, which means things are fine. Ça ne va pas, on the other hand, indicates things are perhaps not going so well.
Once you’re done with a video source (or part of one) give yourself a rest and then try re-watching it a month or so later. See if you can speak along with the audio, or if you can simply watch and understand what’s being said. This last part of the method is not only important for tracking your progress, but continuing it. Keeping familiarity with source material after you’ve already learned it will help build and maintain a base for fluency.
If you have access to English subtitles for your video sources and really need to use them, go ahead. This isn’t “cheating,” because it still requires you to figure out what’s being said in French. You can also use French subtitles to check yourself, but be aware that, for some sources, subtitles may differ from the audio.
The conversational connectors in the dialogue above are “Thanks for asking”, “How about you?”, “Actually”, “To be honest” and “I’m sorry to hear that”. These are phrases that people use over and over in their daily conversations, no matter what the topic.
Each unit is in the form of a checklist with links to online lessons and other resources. I recommend spending at least a week but no more than a month on each unit: study/practice each item in the list and then go back through them again more quickly to cement your learning before moving on to the next unit. And of course you can go back to an earlier unit any time you like.
Ben is a variation on bien that has become very common. As with bien, it can be used to indicate hesitance or also emphasis. If you think about it, “well” can also be used this way to some extent in English.
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While some of these French dialects have drifted far from each other over the centuries, Parisian French is universally intelligible to most Francophones around the world. It is the standard for anyone who wants to learn how to speak French and join the 220 million people around the world who speak French fluently as their native or second language.
By no means do I expect you to become the next linguistic mastermind. Simply put, the entire French language is composed of 37 sounds. Most of them exactly similar to English and others which have no place in our language. If you took a good listen to each phoneme (correct linguistic term for sounds that a language chooses), you’ll have a better understanding of French pronunciation. Check out this site and go through the sounds, all the exercises can be completed well within an hour. This step can be skipped until you have a more concrete understanding of the language, or not even accessed at all. I know many intermediate French speakers who know nothing about linguistics or French phonetics. Also, try reading this article which provides very useful pronunciation tips: French Phonetics.
There are, of course, plenty of quirks and exceptions in the French language, as there are in any language, but the key, as always, is just to go out and SPEAK IT! Like Benny says, French is easy! Both speaking and understanding are within your grasp.
Mastering this language is also a matter of correctly reproducing phonemes and intonation (the « melody »). Here are some instructions to introduce you to the pronunciation of the 20 to 21 consonants and 11 to 16 vowels of the French
That’s where mnemonics come in. Basically, mnemonics involve telling yourself a fun, goofy or memorable story, song, or rhyme to associate with a particular word. For example, one trick for memorizing the difference between “au dessus” and “au dessous” goes: If in the air you see a bus, it must be “au dessus.” If on the ground you see a mouse, it must be “au dessous.”
LOL was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011. Even so, some of us struggle to understand text speak in our own language. The British Prime Minister David Cameron somehow believed LOL meant “lots of love”. Being fluent in a language is all about fitting in. And that includes when you’re chatting on Facebook
I bet you don’t talk like this in your native language. More likely, you enrich the information you communicate by adding phrases to show your mood or level of politeness, or to simply transition smoothly between topics.
On top of that, many parts of German grammar are the same as English since they are both part of the Germanic family of languages. Older Anglo-Saxon texts are particularly close to the German language. Even more recent classics, such as Shakespeare, are closer to the German roots of English.
The moment a native French speaker starts to speak with her about something that isn’t the way to the bathroom, how she’s doing, or what she would like to order, she’s stuck. She speaks enough to get by, but not enough to fluently communicate. While she may “speak French,” I probably wouldn’t recommend that she puts it on her resume just yet.
I have a friend who went to Bordeaux for a few weeks and learned the basics to get around. She can successfully ask for directions, navigate her way through a train station, and order a glass of her favorite wine. According to her, she “speaks French,” which, of course, she does. But she’s far from fluent.