So, you want to learn French! Whatever your motivation and experience, getting started in a language is always the hard part. But good news: there are a lot of resources out there for you if you know how to find them, and a lot of ways to make the process easier and more fun.
One huge key to learning any language with fluency is immersion. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to head off to a foreign country right away and hope for the best. You certainly can, and it may even be a good choice if you’re comfortable traveling, making new friends, and dealing with everything in a language you aren’t yet fluent in. But if you aren’t that very specific type of person, there are plenty of other ways to boost your fluency from the comfort of your home.
Your goal is frequent exposure, as using French often will increase your learning speed. Most introductory language courses in schools hold classes as many as five days a week for this reason. However, if you want to learn French outside of an academic setting, that’s probably not feasible for you.
So what can you do instead?
There are several phone apps such as Duolingo that can be available to you at any time, anywhere. Pick it up whenever you have a minute, and you’ll keep the information fresh in your brain.
On a less work-oriented note, check around for TV shows or movies in French that you enjoy. Even if you’re a beginner, watching them with English subtitles on gets you used to the rhythm of the language and the way people actually speak. If French film isn’t your style, many English-language media can be found dubbed into French: check the language and subtitle options on your DVDs. You also might want to try listening to some French music or check out some blogs about the French language.
No amount of casual listening, unfortunately, can replace instruction, particularly if you want to attain written fluency. Even a trip abroad may teach you what to say, but is unlikely to teach you why. For that, for the grammatical mastery you need in order to express yourself clearly, you need lessons of some kind. There are workbooks and independent study courses available, but they’re not really the best choice: if you’re completely on your own, there’s no one you can ask if you run into trouble or the book doesn’t explain a concept in a way that makes sense to you. In order to learn French reliably, you need someone who can identify and explain your errors.
For a skilled instructor, you have a choice between taking group classes and hiring a private tutor. Tutoring is generally more expensive than classes, which may be a concern, but there are distinct benefits to having someone who will be able to focus on you and tailor lessons to your needs.
One more often-forgotten issue: which French do you want to learn? The French spoken in France and that spoken in Canada have noticeable differences in accent and vocabulary, and those are only the two most commonly considered variations. There are Francophone countries all over the world, so you may want to think about where you plan to use your French.
Whatever you choose, bonne chance!
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Photo by Corey Templeton