mesaventure: Mom's mishap, Smokey's in limbo, and I choked on a pill
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6 Little-known tips to successfully learn French

Field of poppies in Bandol.  See the recent photos of Mom's first days in Provence, here at Instagram or on my Facebook.

This is a guest post from Benjamin Houy, author of How to Learn French in a Year and founder of French Together, a website where he makes learning French easy. You love France, you may already live there or plan to live in this beautiful country in the future. There is only one problem, you don't speak French, not as well as you would like at least. You may think you are not good at languages, you may think you are too old too learn French. After helping thousands of people learn French at French Together, I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty, anyone, at any age can learn French and reach fluency. Here are 6 tips to succeed.

1. Learn sentences, not words

On May 7, Kristin taught you the word "mésaventure" (mishap). You could learn this word alone and repeat mishap = mésaventure until it sticks in your memory. But you would be missing on lots of benefits that come with learning sentences instead of words. That's why Kristin often includes sentences when she teaches you a new word. When you learn sentences rather than words, you:

  • Know how to use the word when you need it
  • Memorize the word more easily, because you can imagine it being used
  • Learn grammar naturally by noticing how the sentence is constructed and the verb conjugated

Let's take the following sentence as an example: Grandma Jules a eu une petite mésaventure à l'aéroport. Grandma Jules had a little mishap at the airport. Because you learn the word in context, you also learn that:

  • "Mésaventure" is a feminine word
  • A sentence usually starts with the subject, followed by the verb then the complement
  • "à l'aéroport" means "at the airport"

As a result, you improve your French and don't simply learn a word, but a sentence you can use in the future.

2. Use a Spaced Repetition Software

If you are like most people, you either write the words you discover in a notebook or keep them in your memory and hope you will remember them. This is fine of course, but there is a much more effective way to memorize vocabulary, Spaced Repetition Softwares Spaced Repetition Softwares work like flashcards. You enter a word or a sentence on one side, and its translation on the other side. The software then asks you what the answer is, and how easy it was for you to give the answer. If the answer came immediately, you know the word well and you won't have to study it for a few days (or months). If you struggled to give the answer or couldn't answer, you may have to study the word again 10 minutes later or the next day. SRS softwares are based on Hermann Ebbignhaus research on memory and allow you to easily learn lots of vocabulary in only a few minutes per day. Instead of randomly reviewing words, all you have to do is open your SRS software and review words before you forget them. Here are a few great (and free) SRS softwares you can use:

  • Anki
  • Memrise

3. Study regularly

You probably can't spend two hours studying French everyday and that's okay. But it's important to at least study regularly. It's better to spend 10 minutes everyday studying French than two hours only once a week. When you study everyday, you make learning French a habit, so you are less likely to give up. Not only that, but regularly reviewing what you learned makes it much easier to memorize in the long term (that's why SRS softwares exist). The main problem is that you don't necessarily feel like studying French after a hard day of work. In this case, you can simply do one of the following activities:

  • Watch a movie or a TV series in French
  • Read a book in French
  • Open HelloTalk, Italki, Interpals or Speaky and exchange a few messages with your French pen pal
  • Write about your day in French and post what you wrote on Lang-8 to get free corrections from native speakers
  • Listen to a French podcast while you wash dishes or commute to work

These are all activities that will help you become a better French speaker, but they are mostly fun and you can easily find some time in your day for them.

4.  Speak from day one

There is a French proverb that says that "forging makes the blacksmith" (c'est en forgeant que l'on devient forgeron). The same is true for French. It's by speaking French that one becomes a good French speaker. Speaking French is as essential as it is terrifying. If you don't speak French as soon as possible (that is as soon as you can create a sentence), you will make the learning process considerably slower and miss on one of the most powerful learning tool available, human interaction. So many great things happen when you speak. Your brain recalls the vocabulary you know, you use grammar, you practice pronunciation, you gain confidence and you get the chance to get feedback. Not to mention that since you also listen to someone, you improve your listening skills. Here are several ways to find a conversation partner

How to find a conversation partner near you

If you live in a big city, chances are you can find someone willing to learn your native language and help you with French in exchange. Here are a few places to check out:

How to find a conversation partner online

Can't find anyone who speaks French near you? Don't worry! There are plenty of opportunities to practice French online. Here are my favorites:

5. Don't focus too much on grammar

One of the most common mistakes French learners make is to focus too much on grammar. It's great to know how to conjugate French verbs or how to use "le" versus "de", but how useful will it be if you don't know enough French to create a sentence? Instead of starting by learning grammar, I recommend you to learn sentences, and then look at specific grammar aspects you don't understand in the sentence. This way, the grammar you learn is adapted to your level and immediately usable. It's also much easier to understand and remember a grammar concept when you see it directly in action.

6. Live French

Can you guess what all of the most successful French learners have in common? Immersion. And by immersion, I don't mean that you need to live in France to learn French, you can perfectly become fluent in French without ever going to France. By immersion, I mean that you should live French and do as many of your daily activities in French as possible. Read news in French, read books in French, watch movies in French, listen to the radio in French...and speak French. By doing this, you get used to the French language, and at some point you will realize you now think in French.

Over to you

Learning French is a long process, it may take years before you reach fluently, but if you follow the tips given in this article and work hard, you will succeed. Do you want to get started right away? Download the French Together Toolbox! It's free and contains several ebooks I created to make learning French easier for you.

*    *    *  Benjamin-Houy
Thank you so much, Benjamin, for this excellent post! Here is a picture of Benjamin and his girlfriend Aysa in the smoothie bar Juicy Jones in Barcelona... which reminds me, all of Benjamin's tips are perfect for learning Spanish and any additional language you which to acquire.


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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety