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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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Alyssa Eppich

Hooray-the photos are back on my email messages from French Word!


Professor Henry Higgins: The French don't care what they do actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.

Fascinating post, Kristin. Many years ago, I spent a summer working in Sweden and I told my colleagues to speak no English. I was working in a drawing office and had to annotate engineering drawings in Swedish. Each night, I went home and swatted and by the end of my sojourn I had a Swedish girl-friend who made me see Swedish films with no sub-titles. I have never forgotten the lesson that this gave me.


Spaced repetition is, indeed, a powerful learning tool. I've used several programs, including Anki. I found Mnemosyne (http://mnemosyne-proj.org/) more flexible and easier to use than Anki. Both programs are a free download, so it's worth trying both to see which one you like. Worth mentioning that spaced repetition is good for learning anything fact-based, and the apps allow you to attach images and audio files.


Thanks for the photos - have always loved your pictures. Looks like a great vacation. Happy travels.


I find English grammar more challenging than French grammar, but for me, the learning process has always been focused on what sounds 'right,' as opposed to what is logical. In undergrad, I worked as a tutor at the university's writing centre, where I sat assisted many international visa students. Those who logically worked out the grammatical formula in their heads before writing down sentences found it more challenging to write a paper than those who listened carefully to everyday English speech, read widely, and formed sentences intuitively on the basis of what sounds right.

It looks like you're having a wonderful time on your vacation. I love the joy on Smokey's face, the colours of the market baskets, the charming boats, and the sunset.

Vance Anderson-Inks

Good morning, Kristen,
I enjoyed this mornings post. I have All the Pimsleur classes on my ipod, Duolingo on my phone, "French in 10 minutes a day" book (love their sticky tags (house looks like a store with a clearance sale on,) and their flash cards for my pocket) It allows me to to immerse myself for 5,10,20 minutes at a time where ever I am. I have dictionaries, phonic's books, (which I pretty much ignore). I do have a working knowledge of Mandarin, Japanese, Tagalog, write Hirigana, a northern Italian dialect, some Swedish and of course, Mexican Spanish. On a lighter note, Austraian Strane, which is essentially Liverpodlian rhyming. I think when you are in another cultural area the most important thing is to "TRY" which frequently breaks a great deal of ice, and lightens up the moment. People all over the world like that you have taken the time to try their language on. Sometimes it doesn't fit. But, you gather some fantastic friends where ever you go, and end up with great tales, and laughter.

Leslie NYC

I love Smokey's spirit!


Pimsleur is the best I've used in any language. A very good book to get (though old) is "Reflex French" (speaking French by reflex). Also get a book of common French idioms and learn a couple a day.


For me, learning a language is like learning to sail a boat: YOU HAVE TO BE ON WATER.... ie you have to be in the country.
No other way will you perfect your language acquisition....
In the country among the people, you hear and smell and see and taste the language.
Language is a sensual thing.....not just cognitive!
You can get a sort of skeleton by learning structures and memorizing vocab....but to really speak it fluently and like a native, you need immersion in the land itself, among the speakers....Cold turkey. Sink or swim.

Judi in Lake Balboa

I've been thinking about getting back to learning French and here is your timely post! Great ideas from Benjamin. Also, I really enjoyed Smokey taking us on a little travel log! Hope you are having a beautiful & peaceful vacation!


I totally agree on your advice. As a French and English learner, contact with native people has always helped me more than grammar or vocabulary books. And you always remember that word you once misused or mispronounced.

Happy to know you are travelling along my little home (province of Girona). I hope you enjoy landscape and food. Sorry for the weather, forecast says it is going to improve on coming days!!!

All the best!

Kitty Wilson-Pote

Thank you, Darling Smokey, for enhancing this fine article by Benjamin Houy: I always miss seeing you when you're not featured, so what a grand treat this is! Warm embrace with fond murmurings and gentle pats and pets all for you!

Frank Chappell

Comment dit-on , " Rufff , rufff " ?

David Ouellet

Ce sera tout? could be properly translated as "That's it"? or "Is that it"? No future tense. If you insist on the future tense, it can be "Will that be all"? It's not really future at all.

Benjamin Houy

I completely agree. Simply trying to speak a language is often enough to motivate people to try to speak your language. I saw that recently in Rome. My Italian is pretty horrible, but simply trying to speak was enough for waiters to see me as more than just another tourist.

Benjamin Houy

True, although you don't need to be in the country to be immersed. There are lots of French people abroad, so it's quite easy to find French people in major cities. But being in the country makes it easier of course.

Benjamin Houy

Ouaf ouaf :)

Benjamin Houy

Well, "ce sera tout" does mean "it will be all" literally, but you're right that the English counterpart would be "That's it".

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