Have you ever taken a French class – or years’ worth of French classes – only to find that you still can’t speak? Or, perhaps you’d like to try a course, but you live in an area without French classes or tutors?
The good news is that, thanks to the wonders of the internet, you no longer have to feel locked into classroom study. In fact, self-studying a language using a variety of different resources can actually be more efficient, more effective and much more fun than taking a structured class.
That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be effortless, of course. Learning French will take some determination and organization. But, these ten tips can help you get started – and keep going.
1. Understand Your Motivation
When you self-study a language, there are no teachers to check your homework, deadlines to meet, or grades that will go on a final report. You are responsible solely to yourself. For it to work, you have to understand what motivates you. Why are you learning French? How do you learn best? Do you like to work alone or do you prefer to be surrounded by other people? Do you learn by writing, or do you prefer to simply listen? Do you want to learn French to travel, to read books, to work or to talk to someone that you know? Knowing yourself as a learner is a key part of successful self-study.
2. Set Small, Attainable Goals
While your long-term goal might be fluency in French, it’s hard to stay motivated when your goal is so big. Instead, start with something smaller. Maybe you want to be able to order from a restaurant, sing along to an entire song, or have a 10-minute conversation without using any English. None of these goals are overwhelming. Once you’ve met your goal, celebrate it with enthusiasm, and set your sights on the next one!
3. Choose A Resource To Start With
There are so many resources out there for learning French. Should you use a book? Purchase software? Listen to a podcast? Hire a tutor? Use free websites? While each of these might be perfect for you, the problem is that having too many resources to choose from can lead to a kind of inertia. You’re better off to pick a resource – preferably a free or inexpensive one at first – and start. If you find that it’s not quite what you’re looking for, you can always switch later.
4. Start Now
Don’t put off learning French until some far-off future date. Even if all you have is a few minutes a day, you can start now with something short and easy like listening to some French music or signing up for a “word of the day” by email. Taking that first step in language learning can often be the hardest – so take that first step now and let the momentum carry you forward.
5. Work On It Every Day
Working on French for 15 minutes every day is better than sitting down for two hours once a week. Many small steps are always going to be more effective – and more motivating – than a single big chunk of time. You’ll be more likely to remember what you’ve learned and less likely to burn out. Of course, the more you work at it, the faster you’ll progress.
6. Listen A Lot
Listening is often the most difficult skill to acquire in a second language. If you’re self-studying from home, it’s crucial to spend lots of time listening to French: music, radio, TV shows, movies, podcasts. At first, your time will be best spent with audio for beginners, but as you get accustomed to the sound and rhythm of the language, you’ll find yourself understanding more and more.
7. Include Native Materials
Native French materials – movies, music, books, magazines, websites, comic books, TV shows, radio – are very important if you’re learning a language far from where it’s spoken. While beginner materials will help you learn vocabulary and structure, only listening to the language as it’s actually spoken will prepare you for the real French world.
8. Review Vocabulary Using Spaced Repetition
It takes a lot of repetition before a new word makes its way into your long-term memory. There are a variety of free spaced repetition flashcard apps that you can download to your computer, phone or tablet. These programs are very efficient, allowing you to rate words and practice difficult ones more often until they’re firmly lodged in your memory. While there are pre-made French decks available online, I strongly encourage you to create your own, adding words as you learn them.
9. Seek Out Opportunities To Connect With French Speakers
Languages are about communication. If you’re learning French, then it’s probably because one day you hope to speak French. Well, let that “one day” be now. Seek out French speakers in your area, in your travels, or online. The first few times that you speak in French might be difficult, but you’ll also find it exciting to use what you’ve been learning! You can start now by looking for a language exchange partner or a tutor on italki who can help you learn to express yourself in French.
10. If It’s Not Enjoyable, Do Something Else
Don’t waste your time on boring or unpleasant materials. While learning French might not always feel easy, it should always be enjoyable. If a resource seems boring, then there’s a very good chance that it’s too easy, too difficult or not applicable to your life – none of which will help you learn. If something’s not working for you, then try something else. Vary your resources, use materials that motivate you, and always look for the joy in language learning. And if you’re just too tired one day – take a break.
Learning a language is a long process. No matter how long you study, there will always be more to learn. But, if you focus on what motivates you, commit to daily practice and look for opportunities to communicate in French, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you progress!