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How to Learn Grammar Naturally

It is proving difficult to illustrate an article on learning grammar naturally! So we'll take inspiration from good ol' Smokey, who is always his best, most natural self--especially on vacation! (In our brief absence we leave you with a helpful article by Benjamin Houy of FrenchTogether.com)


Have you ever tried asking French people why they say things the way they say them? If you do, you're likely to hear "it just sounds right" or "I don't know”. That's because our brain has the amazing ability to recognize patterns and create rules on its own...provided it has had enough exposure to the language. This means you don't actually need to spend hours studying grammar rules to speak French correctly. All you need to do is follow this simple 3-step process!

#1 Get exposure to the language and learn in context

When you start learning French, it's tempting to simply open a grammar book and learn grammar rules. That's the way most schools teach French after all! The problem of grammar rules is that:

        They're hard to memorize.

        Even if you do memorize them, there is no guarantee you'll be able to use them in real sentences.

        Learning grammar rules is incredibly boring.

        It's sometimes better not to follow grammar rules if you want to sound French.


Okay so learning grammar rules isn't ideal, but isn't it the only way to master French grammar? Absolutely not! In fact, learning grammar rules has been proven to be one of the worst ways to master grammar.

 And there are studies to prove it!

"Certain classes would practice saying pronoun-filled sentences in the language laboratory, without hearing any rules, while other (“ control”) classes would learn them by the usual method— a statement of rules followed by written and oral exercises. Then both groups would take the same test....

The outcome was that, when both groups were tested on their ability to say and write French sentences containing pronouns, the students who had spent only sixty minutes practicing in the lab did slightly better than those who had spent more than a week on it in class." Paul Pimsleur.

What Paul Pimsleur did with his class is something I always recommend you to do: learn grammar in context.

Instead of opening your grammar book and learning random rules, pick a few sentences you want to learn and try to understand how they're constructed. Often the translation will be enough to understand how a phrase is constructed. When it's not, simply open a grammar book or look at the explanations provided in your course.

And remember that not understanding how a phrase is constructed isn't a big deal. If you can't understand a grammar concept, it probably means you're trying to learn it too early.

When you open 30-Day French, one of the first phrases you learn is "ce sera tout ?" (will that be all?), a sentence French sellers use all the time. This phrase uses the future tense, a tense I don't recommend you to learn as a beginner, because mastering the present tense first will help you make progress faster.

That's why I simply recommend users of 30-Day French to learn that "ce sera tout ?" means "will that be all?" without trying to learn how to conjugate verbs in the future tense. I know learning grammar in context may seem strange, but I can assure you it's the fastest and easiest way to master French grammar.

That's how you learned your native language after all!

Three dozen baskets... Ce sera tout? Will that be all, Smokey? (Farmers Market in Collioure, France)


#2 Use Anki to memorize your sentences

You probably heard several times that repetition is key. But repetition doesn't necessarily mean repeating the same phrases out loud every day for a week. You can and should use the power of Anki. Anki is a spaced repetition software.

You enter phrases and their translation in it and it will then show you the phrases more or less frequently depending on how well you know them. As a result, you learn vocabulary faster while spending way less time learning.

If you want to learn a specific grammar rule for an exam, simply find several sentences illustrating the rules (tatoeba is great for that) and add them to Anki.

After a while, you'll intuitively know how to construct this kind of sentence.

You say you just made a mistake? Ne t'inquiète pas! Don't worry! (Port Lligat in Spain)

#3 Get feedback and learn from your mistakes

The first two steps are great to understand grammar naturally and learn useful vocabulary at the same time, but as a French learner, you may still make mistakes without even realizing it. These mistakes can then become habits that will be hard to change. That's why I recommend you to get feedback as early as possible.

 To do that, you can start by using Lang-8, a website which allows you to post your texts and get corrections from native speakers. This is a great way to learn from your mistakes.

Once you feel confident enough, you can start looking for a conversation partner. I explain how and where to find one in this article. And remember, making mistakes isn't shameful, it's an essential part of the learning process.

Most French people won't mind your mistakes as long as you get your point across. Voilà, you now know how to learn French grammar without going crazy.

Sunset walk
(Seaside in Roses, Spain.) Thanks, Smokey, for helping to illustrate Benjamin's article...while sharing highlights from your recent family vacation. Learning French naturally is like walking before a beautiful sunset: it is an agreeable way to proceed.   

Click here to discover how 30-Day French helps you master the most common aspects of French grammar using real-life conversations

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