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.
Well, there you have it! By practicing everyday for 30 minutes to an hour a week, you will definitely achieve something depending on how effective your practice is. I know at first it goes slowly… I started going through Italian now and I feel as if I’ve hit a wall with what I can say. After you get a good foundation, you can move faster and faster, hopefully achieving that conversational-level before your next trip to France. Bon courage.
In fact, you should get in the habit of Googling whenever you have a question about French, including grammar issues. It is far more effective to search for an answer to something that you have noticed in the language, that you are curious about, rather than having a teacher push an explanation at you.
You’re probably noticing a pattern. There’s no getting around it, ça is a word that comes up over and over in French conversation. Trying to talk without it is like trying to prepare a three-course meal without a knife.
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.
OK, so it’s only free if you don’t count the airfare or room and board, but nothing helps you become fluent like living in a French-speaking country. But immersion is no magic bullet. If you haven’t arrived with at least some knowledge of French vocabulary and grammar, passive listening will not be easy and will not make you fluent without further study. Before taking the big plunge, you can simulate immersion by streaming French radio and TV online, watching French films and doing multimedia lessons online.
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Almost all European languages share countless cognates with English thanks to their shared roots, history, and evolution. Take the English words “identification,” “attention,” and “direction,” for example. The very same words exist in French with the very same ending and just a slightly different pronunciation.
This is one of the first phrases most people learn. Consequently, it’s easy to dismiss its importance and incredible versatility. Basically, ça (it, that) is a handy noun and aller (to go) is a handy verb.
Standard French contains 13 oral vowels and up to 4 nasal vowels, but it only has 5 different letters for all these sounds. Crazy right? But don’t freak out, it’s just a matter of studying a little bit, listening to a ton of French, and repeating the sounds until your tongue hurts.
Some days, you might read along with the audio. Other days, you might re-watch the video without subtitles. If you’re feeling musical, you might set your sentences to a melody and sing them to your cat. The only rule is to review out loud often, even if you don’t do it every day.
Another idea is to find your favorite books in French. This will help keep your interest and will help you decipher the text since you already know the plot. It’s good to start simple, since a too-challenging book at the start of your learning will only frustrate you.
You can think of it as a box of tools. Except, in this case, most of them are multitools. Those that have more specific uses are like screwdrivers: basic tools that can be used in a variety of situations.
Work with what you know. Try to select content that you already kind of understand. Choose videos that feature topics you’re well-versed on, or movies that you’ve already seen a million times in English. This way you’ll know what’s happening more or less and you’ll be able to infer meaning through the overall context. You’ll be expanding your existing French knowledge by placing it in context, while also keeping your sanity.
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.
Very soon you’ll discover that whereas in English verb forms don’t change much for person, in French every form of the verb changes, depending on the person, and tense and “mood”. We call these verb changes, the different conjugation forms of verbs. It’s very difficult to remember these conjugations. You can spend all kinds of time pouring over conjugation tables. In my experience it’s a very unsatisfying thing to do because you forget them. You might remember them for tomorrow’s test and then you forget them, so you constantly have to refer to them and see them in context.
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.
Spanish pronunciation is fairly easy for English speakers, with only ten vowel/diphthong sounds (English has 20), and the easy-to-master letter ñ. Like Italian, the orthography is clear and simple; words are written as they’re pronounced, which makes reading easier. Grammatically, Spanish has fewer irregularities than other romance languages too.
There’s the futur proche, which will be extremely familiar to speakers of English and Spanish. It simply combines the conjugated form of the verb aller, meaning “to go,” with an infinitive. It’s equivalent to saying in English, “I am going to .” There’s also a futur simple that, like the imparfait, uses only one set of endings that are added to the “future stem,” which is usually just the infinitive or, for the irregular verbs, the infinitive with the final “e” chopped off.
Reading, watching and listening has a remarkable effect on your brain. Simply by being exposed to French, your brain is put to work. It starts trying to understand new words by making connections to previously learned words and seeks to make sense of any new structures. Basically, you’re learning without knowing that you’re learning.
Overloading yourself in this manner daily will definitely show improvement, even if you are a beginner and know nothing! Watching the news not only challenges your oral comprehension, you’ll pick up on how the French tell the weather, how they introduce one another, and how they pronounce words, which is extremely important for the later steps. Watching your favorite videos with subtitles/ dubbed doesn’t cost you a thing a gives you more exposure to French.
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Knowing some common French greetings and good-byes will be indispensable when traveling in French-speaking countries. Saying hello and good-bye in French will quickly become second nature because you’ll use them day in and day out with everyone you come across.
Also, sounds appear to melt together from the last syllable of one word to the beginning syllable of the next word. These are things you have to get used to as a beginner. You have to be aware of these things, notice them, and eventually you will get used to them. Trust me.