Learning French takes time.
However, that time can be shortened by understanding the best methods, tips, and tricks to use on your language journey. When mastering a foreign language, practice, vocabulary, and pronunciation are going to be keys to your success—and like most things, when you adopt bad habits it may take longer to do it correctly and with clarity.
You’ll also want to avoid certain faux pas when using your newly acquired language skills with native speakers.
When spoken correctly and respectfully, French can benefit you in many ways. It can open up career opportunities, assist you on your travels, and allow you to meet new, interesting people.
If you’re ready to get started, it’s helpful to know some of the do’s and don’ts of French conversation.
DO Practice French Conversation Whenever You Can, Even if you’re on a Budget
Lessons and classrooms aren’t the only place to practice your French.
Many cities and towns around the nation have meet-ups and community groups centralized around practicing and conversing in a foreign language. Use your Google skills to find French conversation meet-ups in your area, and make them a part of your weekly routine.
If you aren’t able to find a group nearby or travel to a French-speaking country, there is always the option to do live online conversations with native French speakers. Explore the multitude of free, innovative websites and other fun ways to learn and speak French—and remember you may have to reciprocate by helping someone with English.
The more you practice the closer you’ll be to mastering French.
DON’T Feel Weird about Reading French Books Out Loud
Books are a wonderful option for practicing French conversation without having an additional person in the room. Find a book with plenty of dialogue, pull out your handy pronunciation app, and start reading out loud.
At first it may be slow going, but if you do it often enough, you’ll be spewing out French phrases left and right.
Highlight areas of interest, or spots where you felt your comprehension was weak. Revisit those areas after you’ve read a chapter and look up words and phrases.
Feel free to repeat them a few times to commit them to memory.
Hint: If adult literature seems a little too challenging, start with children’s books. The illustrations provide a colorful translator.
DO Use the Internet as a Practice Tool
The internet is the ultimate free tool when you’re tired of hitting the books.
Flashcards and textbooks can only take you so far—sometimes you need real-world experience.
When you’re tired of studying, go ahead and surf the net. The trick? Do it all in French. You can change language settings to French and use Google translator to change a website’s text to a specific language (like French).
Visit French sites, interact in French on social media, peruse French language blogs, Twitter and Facebook pages, and more.
Watch French YouTube videos and even window shop on French websites. See if you can read the descriptions of items accurately. There is a whole world of French internet out there to explore.
DON’T Forget Games, TV, Music, and Movies
Reading and speaking are two methods for learning French conversation, but listening is another excellent tool.
Search for online games in French, watch French TV, or stream French movies and music. Before you know it, you’ll start to identify words. Even more important, you can see what context they’re used in.
Body language and tone of voice are two powerful ways to absorb a language on multiple levels.
DO Keep a Vocabulary Book
Many writers look and listen for new words. They keep a notebook with them (or use a note-taking app if they’re a technology fan), and jot down words that they are unfamiliar with. Once near a dictionary, they will look up these words so they can make them a part of their own vocabulary.
The same principles work for foreign language. If you haven’t heard or seen a word or phrase before, write it down and look it up later. Before you know it you’ll be using it in your own French conversations.
DON’T Practice Bad Words in French
Chances are, somewhere along your language adventure someone has given you the gift of French curse words or insulting phrases.
A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t say it on the job, to your grandmother or in an educational setting, it’s probably not a great idea to practice it in conversations with others—especially if you’re traveling abroad and are unsure of the cultural customs.
In many countries, bad or disrespectful words and phrases come with more consequences than they do in the US.
DO Work on How to Pronounce French Words Correctly
It’s better to have it correct the first time than to continuously use incorrect pronunciation. Technology makes it easier than ever to learn correct pronunciation.
If you aren’t in your lessons or with a native speaker, pull out a book, app, or check a language program on your computer. There are a variety of resources available, and each will appeal to an array of learning styles.
Try a few methods to find the one that fits you best.
DON’T Resort to Using English when French Conversation Gets Hard
Understanding only a small fraction of a conversation can feel overwhelming and isolating. You feel lost and confused, and it’s easy for your confidence to suffer.
When you were a toddler, it was second nature to simply sit and absorb, even if you didn’t fully understand what was going on around you. Try and put that incredible ability back in your learning toolbox and apply it when you start to feel unnerved.
You may want to resort to using English to get a point across or ask someone to explain something in English—but don’t. Each time you persevere through an entire conversation as a listener or speaker, the closer you’ll be to understanding and speaking French fluently.
It’s easy to give up, but far more rewarding to keep going, even when it’s hard.
DON’T Ignore Common Cultural Cues
One of the most important things you’ll learn to do is read and respect cultural cues. This is a skill that can take you far in life, whether you’re in your own country or abroad.
Depending on the French speaker you’re talking to and where they’re from you’ll have a different set of customs to honor. For example, in France it’s not customary to be informal about names with people you don’t know well. It’s common to be more formal and direct. The warmth and familiarity will emerge as you get to know someone.
If you plan on traveling or staying abroad for a period of time, do a quick search on common etiquette guidelines. It will enhance your conversations as well as your overall learning experience.
DO Work Hard on Learning the Basics of French Grammar
No matter what language it is, the word ‘grammar’ strikes fear into the heart of learners of all ages. Nothing is more daunting than conjugation, modifiers, tenses, and the endless rules.
The good news is if you were able to learn the basics of English grammar you can learn the basics of French grammar. The rules tend to be more straightforward, and as you put them into play, speaking and interpreting French will get easier.
While French conversation is indeed essential to mastering the language, so is basic grammar.
DON’T Lose Hope
In learning, we hit walls and roadblocks.
Let’s say you’ve figured out greetings and can recognize a good amount of vocabulary. You may even understand basic grammar. Sometimes stringing all of those things together takes time.
They say practice makes perfect, and it’s a common phrase for a reason. One day, all that hard work will give you the ability to put everything together and you’ll be able to have a fluent French conversation.
Don’t lose hope before the transformation occurs.
DO Travel Abroad and Accept French Conversation Opportunities
France is not the only travel option for those looking to practice their French. If you feel like going off the beaten path or somewhere closer to home, try places like Quebec (and other parts of Canada), Belgium, Haiti, Madagascar, Monaco, Luxembourg, and Benin.
Look into immersion programs, foreign exchange living situations, adventure travel, and volunteerism in French-speaking areas.
If an opportunity to host a French foreign exchange student arises, or to have a French au pair, take advantage. Foreign language students talk about how much easier it is to learn a language when you are surrounded by it—so practice whenever and wherever you can.
DON’T Be Afraid to Initiate French Conversation
If you’re standing in line at the museum and hear tourists speaking in French, go ahead and say, “Bonjour.” The worst thing that can happen is that they’ll ignore you.
More likely, they’ll welcome the conversation and appreciate that someone made the effort. The same goes for traveling abroad. French speakers warm up quickly to those who attempt to use the native language—even if it’s a little shaky.
A smile and an attempt goes a long way to receiving patience, practice, and help in French conversation.
DO Put Theory into Practice Whenever You Can
Sit down one day and make a list of where you can practice French conversation. Look at adding meet-ups, French restaurants, online communities, travel destinations, lessons, and classes.
Brainstorm everything you can think of.
Some will be practical and some will be dreams that happen later on.
The purpose of your list is to put things into context. One of the most efficient ways to gain a skill is to use it in daily life in the proper setting.
If you’ve just learned about ordering in French, find the nearest French bakery. Hop onto Skype and use your newfound vocabulary to talk about the weather with someone in the Congo.
Head to your private tutor and practice telling them what you did the past weekend. The more frequently you use your French lessons in everyday life, the better your conversational skills will become.
Think of the do’s and don’ts of French conversation as a essential guide for your everyday language learning lessons. Each step of the way you’ll know which paths to choose to keep you moving toward fluency.
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