Are you taking the life-changing step of learning French?
If it's your first foreign language, then you’ve probably heard that the first is always the hardest – and after that, each one becomes easier.
Is this because your brain somehow becomes better at retaining words, like a muscle that grows stronger with exercise?
Perhaps partly. But I believe the real reason is that experienced language learners develop a deeper understanding of which strategies work – and which ones don’t. This allows them to focus on techniques that are useful while skipping ones that aren’t.
If French is your first foreign language and you’re wondering what you can do to speed up your progress, I’m sharing 10 tried and tested strategies that will help accelerate your learning.
This way, even if you’ve never learnt a foreign language before, you won’t need to wait to discover these ideas for yourself.
By the end of this post, you'll have a simple plan to make progress in French every day, without spending the rest of your days pouring over grammar books or vocab lists. Sound good? Let's get started then!
The most important thing you can do when learning a language is to work at it every day – it’s much better to study for 15-20 minutes each day than for four hours once a week.
If you learn every day, even languages like Chinese, Vietnamese or Arabic are easy. But if you practise only once a week, even something relatively simple like French becomes next to impossible.
It doesn’t matter what you do during your study time, as long as you do something. But by setting aside a short study session of only half an hour every day – and sticking to it – you will see yourself make rapid progress.
If the First Golden Rule of language learning is practising every day, then the Second Golden Rule is not being afraid of making mistakes.
Many people feel uncomfortable when speaking a new language because they worry about saying something wrong and looking stupid. Yet one of the keys to becoming a successful language learner is accepting you will make mistakes and being comfortable with it.
The best language learners are those who are willing to try. Don’t imagine these people make fewer mistakes than everyone else. In fact, the opposite is true. They speak out and make lots of mistakes. And that's precisely why they succeed.
When you learn French, of course you will make mistakes. You need to embrace this and realise that nobody will laugh at you. Every time you make a mistake, you're learning. And making mistakes is one of the most important things you can do.
There's a big difference between studying and practising.
Whether you're taking classes or learning by yourself independently, you can be the most dedicated student in the world but if you don’t practise your French, it just won’t stick. To speed up your learning, you need to find opportunities to speak.
Right from the beginning, seize every chance to practise what little you know. Even if you only repeat the same ten phrases about your job or where you come from, you're laying firm foundations upon which the rest of your French will be built.
Always practise out loud. Thinking about the words is not enough and whispering them under your breath won’t cut it. When you practise, make sure you speak out in a big, confident voice.
There’s something special about speaking French aloud that helps fix words and sentences in your long-term memory.
It’s like learning to play music. You can’t learn a piece by memorising the notes on the page and imagining the tune. But by playing the notes in sequence over and over again, they quickly become second nature and you no longer need to think about what you're doing.
Learning French, or any language is the same.
There is a common misconception that you need to practise conversation with native speakers for it to have any value.
While you will benefit from the chance to speak with native speakers, the simple act of speaking in French is always beneficial, even if you make mistakes that aren’t corrected.
If you have a learning buddy who is also studying French, you can practise together. You don’t need to speak perfectly – and you will make mistakes – but simply thinking about how to form sentences and trying to say them is an essential part of the learning process.
However, even if you don’t have a learning buddy, you can still practise – by speaking to yourself!
This might seem odd at first, but it really works. Try it for just five or ten minutes a day and you will notice your progress. If you get into the habit of chatting to yourself in French whenever you’re alone, you'll see a huge improvement in fluency.
Another option is your pet dog or goldfish. They might not answer back. But they will make excellent language partners for you to practise with.
Or try this.
Once I heard a story about someone who was learning English. His spoken English was excellent and his pronunciation was almost perfect.
So his teacher asked how he was doing it. He explained that every night, he watched TV in English, and when the people on TV spoke, he answered them back as if they were talking to him!
Again, it might sound a bit crazy – but he is the proof that it works. So why not try it in French?
They allow you to find native French speakers who want to practise English. With these apps, you can set up a language exchange to practise together and help each other learn.
You can start off chatting by text or sending voice messages. But once you feel more confident, you can move on to phone calls or video calls, all through the app.
When you speak, whether in class or in ‘real life’, make sure you always use full sentences. Yes, native speakers might sometime give monosyllabic answers. But you’re not a native speaker and you need the practice.
Don’t be lazy – whenever you use French, force yourself to always speak in full sentences. If you don’t make the effort, you won’t benefit.
I’m also a strong believer that the same is true when you are typing in a chat. Native speakers may use all kinds of shortened internet slang and it might seem cool to learn some, but you'll benefit more from writing out full, correct sentences. Pay attention to accents too.
There’s so much else you can do to speed up your learning and it goes back to my very first point about trying to do some French every day. It doesn’t matter what you do: as long as you make French a part of your daily routine, your language ability will benefit.
One way to give yourself daily exposure to French is to listen to podcasts. There are many good ones available, and lots of them are free. Check out my article about the best French podcasts for more details.
Once your French reaches a high enough level, it also opens up the world of TV and radio aimed at native speakers. There are also many suitable films for you to tackle – if you want some suggestions, check out this article I wrote for tips on where to start.
Finally, you can read. This is an excellent way to improve many aspects of your French, but most notably vocabulary. The key is to read copiously and to read for pleasure rather than focusing on short passages and studying them in minute detail.
This is the difference between intensive reading and extensive reading. Have a look at my article on French books for beginners for more info.
So far, I’ve kept everything positive and given you a list of things you should do. But I’m going to finish with one negative and tell you something you really shouldn’t do.
Many people learning a language for the first time seem to believe that to be successful, you need to spend time memorising long lists of vocab. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
This is just not how our brains acquire language. If you memorise a list of vocabulary, the words will be stored in your short-term memory – where they will remain for a couple of days before disappearing.
New words go into your long-term memory when you meet them in different contexts in books or conversation. Or when you push yourself to think of new ways to express your ideas and thoughts.
In short, you learn words by doing everything I’ve talked about in this article. You learn new vocabulary naturally in many ways. But reciting vocab lists is not one of them. Avoid it!
So there you are, my top 10 tips for learning French fast.
I’m sure there are plenty more that other people can give you or that you might discover for yourself. But if you follow these suggestions – and try to make studying, practising and using French a part of your daily life – you may even surprise yourself when see how quickly your French is improving.
You'll soon be ready to indulge in café culture – sipping on a glass of wine or an espresso in a chic Parisian bar or a rural retreat, chatting in French with the natives.
What are you doing to make faster progress in French? And which of these tips did you like the best? I can't wait to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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