Traveling – France is one of the most pleasant countries in Europe to vacation – if you can speak French. Seek out the kinds of genuine places that are out of bounds to non-French speakers. If you get away from Paris hotels and Riviera resorts, you’ll discover that most of the country consists of farms, vineyards and small villages. The common denominator, whether you are in Provence, Champagne or Brittany, is excellent food, world-class wine and inexhaustible country charm.
No, we’re not talking about knowing how to say “hello,” “thank you,” and “one beer, please” (although this is helpful, of course). We’re talking about knowing a little bit about how languages work and the basic parts of a language.
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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.
Believe it or not, you already know some French words even before you even start studying it. While French may seem like “Greek” to you, the majority of foreign languages actually share some words or roots of words. These words that look or sound like words in your language and have the same meaning are called cognates.
From a practical standpoint, I’ve found that anytime I’m at a loss for the right French word, coating an English word in a heavy French accent is a surprisingly effective strategy. I remember during my first week in French class, I was trying to say that a certain French word exists in English but has a different meaning.
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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.
However, it’s highly recommended that you gradually expand your vocabulary at least to the 1,000 most commonly used words in French. With just 1,000 words, you’ll be able to understand about 80% of written texts.
A slippery element of the language (and all the Romances) is in false cognates: word pairings that sound the same as an English word, but mean something different. Particular means “private” in Spanish, and eventual means possible. See how that could get confusing?
This is good phrase for transitions between two sentences, giving you a moment to catch your breath and collect your thoughts. It’s another word that’s often used as filler, but when used as a transition it usually translates more directly to “incidentally” or “by the way.”
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.
If you’ve decided to give French a try and you’re eager to start (or continue) learning the language of liberté, egalité, and fraternité (the French national motto), here are a few hacks to learn French fast and and optimize your efforts.
Add to that the fact that the third person singular On form is usually used in place of the first person plural, and you don’t even have to think about changing the pronunciation for the majority of verb forms in the present indicative.
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.
If you are lost when you see “conjugate,” conjugating is this: the verb regarder means “to look,” in french. If you want to say “I am looking,” or “I look,” you write “Je regarde,” because when you take off the ending of the verb (which for this case is -er) in the Je form (Je means I), you replace it with “e.” Now, if you wish to say “They are looking,” or “We are looking,” you will need a different ending.
Try and make sure your learning time is free of distractions and your workspace is organized. Schedule short breaks to keep yourself motivated when you’re in the middle of long study sessions. Most importantly, have fun with it!
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.
Another great method is to go to France or any other French-speaking countries. For North Americans a great idea is to go to Montreal or Quebec City in the French-speaking province of Quebec. This offers opportunities for study in full-immersion native-speaking environments. Indeed, by learning in such an environment you can learn much faster. However, a lot of people cannot afford taking such trips and do not have the time. Again, our classes page offers lots of information about classes available in several major cities.
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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.