A few tips on how to learn French efficiently
Have you always wanted to communicate with others in French?
Perhaps, you have a business in the province of Quebec and you need to speak with your employees, suppliers, and/or other contacts.
Are you planning to travel where the natives speak French? Wouldn’t it be great if you could ask them questions in their language or exchange ideas with them?
Learning French, like any other new language, implies a lot of memorization, and often, as adults, our memory is not what it used to be. Here are 12 tips that may help you memorize new information longer, and learn French more efficiently.
Study French with Audio
Let’s start with one that is a key if you want to do more than just read novels or French magazines…
As you probably know, written French and spoken French are almost 2 different languages.
There are many silent letters, liaisons, etc… and they are everywhere, including in French verb conjugations and grammar. When studying grammar, playing something audio will help you tremendously as you are going through the lesson.
Please remember, picking the right audio tool is essential: a French beginner will be discouraged with a French movie. French movies should be seen as a recreation, not a serious study tool.
Picking the right French audiobook is your first challenge, and from your choice may very well depend on the success or failure of your French studies.
Know your Own Learning Style
Do you need to write? Do you need to listen? Or do you need to read to learn things by heart?
Whatever the method you are using to learn French, make sure you adapt it to YOUR learning style. This being said, studying French with audio is a must if you want to learn the language and be able to communicate: understand spoken French and speak French yourself.
Self Studying is NOT for Everybody
When it comes to learning languages, not everybody is the same. Some people have an easier time with languages than others. It’s not fair, and it’s not popular to say it… but it’s true. It doesn’t mean that someone less gifted cannot learn French, but it means that self studying may not be for them.
Some students need the expertise of a teacher to guide them through their studies, motivate them and find creative ways to explain the same point until it is understood. Skype and/or French phone lessons can be a good solution.
Translate French into English as Little as Possible
When you are a total beginner, some translation is going to occur but try as much as possible to avoid it. Some terms and expressions cannot be translated, and others use other words than those found in a dictionary, such as: make up (you know the noun “makeup” as “maquillage”). Make up can have a couple of meanings in French, such as “reconciliation” (stop being angry with someone), “mettre du maquillage” (put on cosmetics), or even “inventer” (invent a story).
Translating adds a huge step in the process of speaking (“Idea –> English –> French” versus just “idea –>French”).
It makes your brain waste time and energy, and will fool you into making a mistake when literal translation doesn’t work.
Link to Images and Visual Situations, not English words
So, if you don’t translate, what should you do?
Try as much as possible to link the new French vocabulary to images, situations, feelings and NOT to English words.
For example, when learning “j’ai faim”, visualize that you are hungry, bring up the feeling, not the English words – which doesn’t translate well since we don’t use “I am”, but “I have” in French…
And never change the English sentence to adapt it to the French – “the French say “I HAVE hungry”…
It is MUCH simpler and faster to link the feeling of hunger to “j’ai faim”.
If you are doing flashcards to study French – which is strongly encouraged – draw the word/situation whenever possible instead of writing English. Even if you are not a good artist, you’ll remember what your drawing meant, and it’s much more efficient to learn French this way.
Beware of French Cognates
This is exactly why you should be particularly careful with cognates – words that are the same between the two languages.
Many students approach them thinking “that’s easy, I know that one”. However, when they need to use that word, they don’t remember it’s the same word as in English …
Furthermore, cognates always have a different pronunciation, and your English brain is going to fight saying that word the French way. Many people have a hard time with the word “chocolat”. In French, the ch is soft, as in “shoes”, and the final t is silent. It should be pronounces like “shocola”. Most people learning French pronounce it “tchocolaT”.
Finally, there are many false cognates: words that exist in both languages but don’t have the same meanings, such as library in English and “Librairie” in French (bookstore).
So, cognates need more of your attention, not less.
Learn French in Sentences
When looking at a sentence, learn new its vocabulary. This way, you will learn it “in context”, you’ll remember the situation and words longer, and you’ll already have a series of words that go well together for your next French conversation!
Using examples from your environment to associate words
Let’s say your instructor told you to write some sentences for homework. You want to learn “the black cat” in French. Instead of writing down “Le chat est noir”, look for a black cat you personally know, and write: “le chat de Peter est noir, Minet est noir”. (Peter’s dog is black, Minet is black).
Your brain will remember a sentence describing a truth or a memory much longer than it will remember a sentence of made up facts.
Group Related Vocabulary Together
This is the same idea as the concept of learning French in context. Use larger flashcards and on the same flashcard, write all related French vocabulary as you come across it. You’ll get to the info faster if you have memorised it all together.
Don’t Try to Learn Everything, Prioritize
To make learning fun, we try to present a text, a story. If your memory is great, go ahead and memorize everything!
However, if that is not the case, PRIORITIZE the words in this story that you think YOU are likely to use. Focus on learning these first, then revisit the story once you’ve mastered your first list.
The same logic applies to verb tenses: in conversation, most of the time we use the present indicative. Focus on the present when studying your French verb conjugations, and then move on to adjectives, essential vocabulary, asking questions, pronouns … things that will make an immediate difference in your ability to converse in French.
Study French Regularly, for a Short Time, not all in one Sitting
Cramming information does not work, not in the long run. If you study French all afternoon, chances are you’ll exhaust yourself, and are much more likely to get frustrated, lose your motivation or attention.
Spending 15 minutes a day learning French – not multitasking but with 100% of your attention – will get you better results than two hours during the weekend with the kids playing in the background.
Review – Repetition is the Key!
This is probably the number one mistake students make. They concentrate on learning new material, and forget to review the older stuff.
Rule of thumb: for each hour spent learning new things, you need to spend, at the very least, one hour reviewing older things.
The key is repetition!
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