Learning French can be tricky. After all, studying this beautiful language involves memorizing all kinds of important French vocabulary. But if memorizing vocabulary in French is holding you back from speaking fluently and confidently, TakeLessons is here to help.
In our guide on how to memorize French vocabulary, we’ve outlined our favorite tips and tricks for committing both challenging and easy French vocab to memory. Use the following tips to “decode” vocabulary memorization so you can memorize basic French vocabulary fast.
1. Get to the Roots
Memorize words that share the same root at the same time. For example, when you are learning the word “écrire” (to write), you can also learn “écrivain” (writer) and “l’écrire” (the act of writing). This means you will increase your vocabulary exponentially, and words and their meanings will stick more clearly in your memory since you’re learning the whole family of words at the same time.
In the same vein, begin memorizing French suffixes and prefixes. Once you understand them, you can get clues about certain words. Not only can they help you determine if the word is a verb, noun, or adjective, but they can also give you additional context about the word. For example, if you see “anti” written before a word, it suggests that word is a noun or adjective and implies “opposite” or “against of.” Another example is when you come across a French vocab word ending with “ail.” In this case, you can assume it is a verb referring to an instrument or object.
2. Know Your Cognates
Make a list of French/English cognates (words that sound the same and share the same meaning in both languages). Once you’ve identified some cognates you’d like to learn, write them on a piece of paper in two columns (one for French and one for English) and quiz yourself by folding the piece of paper vertically in half. Test your ability to produce both the English meaning and the French word. Make flashcards for the ones you don’t know, and after quizzing yourself with the flashcards, do a final test with the paper again, making sure you are able to give the French equivalent of the English word.
3. Practice With Your Textbook
Most language-learning books have illustrations to introduce vocabulary. Looking at the illustrations, try to describe them using the vocabulary you already know or have studied, and then read the captions underneath the pictures to see how well you did. Notice how the vocabulary words are used in context. French children’s books are another great way to put this tip to use. Pick up some picture books but before reading the text, describe the images and predict what is happening in the story using basic French vocabulary.
4. Three Is a Magic Number
When it comes to memorizing your French vocabulary list, you’ll soon realize that repetition is your friend. The more you repeat words, the more likely you’ll remember them. If you’re really struggling to retain vocabulary words, try the following memorization exercise:
- Write the French word three times in French and then write the French words in English.
- Write the French word again without looking back at what you have just written.
Repeat this process until you consistently get the answers right.
5. Listen and Repeat
If you want to know how to learn French vocabulary effectively, you’re going to need to trust your ears. After all, a big part of mastering French involves understanding the nuances of certain sounds. There’s no sense in practicing French vocabulary if you’re not pronouncing the words correctly in the first place.
Do you know a native French speaker who is willing to help you? If so, set up a session to practice listening and repeating important French vocabulary together. If not, turn to the internet or apps for guidance. You can often find digital recordings of vocabulary words pronounced in French and English (either as part of your textbook or independent of it).
Try listening to these once, then repeat each word in French while listening to it a second time. There are many great French videos on YouTube that can help you memorize vocabulary and practice listening and speaking.
6. Use It in a Sentence
When trying to remember someone’s name, have you ever heard the trick of reciting the person’s name back to them in a sentence? For example, “Hi, Susie, it’s nice to meet you.” Well, this memorization tip works the same way.
Every time you learn a new French vocab word, try to string it together with other French words you already know to make a sentence. Can you frame it as a question or make it into a joke? Say it out loud and then jot down the phrase or sentence, so you can see it writing. This is one sure way to help commit the word to memory.
7. Make Associations
Make associations with words you are familiar with in English. An example of this is the French verb “rencontrer.” While it means to meet or find, another meaning is “to encounter.” Create the association between these two similar words so you will be able to recall the meaning and the word itself in French.
8. Word of the Day
If you’re committed to learning French within the year, choose a ‘word of the day’ each day. If you have a week to study for a test, or if you set a goal to memorize a list of vocabulary by the end of the week, you can reinforce your vocabulary study by singling out each word.
Here’s how it works:
- Each day, take the word you have chosen and write it on a few Post-Its with or without its English equivalent.
- Place the Post-Its in places you will see them throughout the day, like the bathroom mirror, the monitor on your computer, or in your planner.
When you see these reminders, say the French vocab out loud, define it, and use it in a sentence. The more familiar you are with seeing and using that word, the more likely you’ll remember it in the future.
9. Write It Down
If your goal is to increase your vocabulary rapidly by quickly memorizing additional words in French, keep a notebook handy where you can write down new words as you come across them. Maybe you heard a beautiful French word in a song or saw an unfamiliar phrase in your textbook. Jot it down, and be sure to frequently go back and review it. Having a written record of words you are learning allows you to review and track your progress.
10. Do It Daily
If you’re really looking into how to learn French vocabulary effectively, start by making it a regular part of your day. The key to learning vocabulary rapidly is studying it regularly. It doesn’t have to be a long time; just a few minutes, each day, can make a huge difference in your retention of the words you learn. Review your French vocabulary list, strike up conversations in French, read books in the language, and explore French language apps every day to improve your skills in no time.
You won’t become fluent in French over night, but don’t get discouraged. As long as you commit to following the above tips and studying every day, you will begin to see a major improvement in your language skills. Remember, practice—and plenty of repetition—makes perfect.
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Joan B. lives in Carmichael, CA and has been teaching high school Spanish for more than 18 years. A lover of language, she’s studied French, Arabic, and Italian and spent time living in Spain. Joan aims to help students improve on tests and increase their conversational ability when traveling to Spanish-speaking countries. Learn more about Joan here!
Photo by Martin Sharman