French and My Philosophy on Language Learning

I can’t speak for everyone here but if you’ve got the right technique, the answer is ‘no’. Now, of course, language learning is inherently difficult and time consuming, but if you devote enough time to the task, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

French is a popular first choice for foreign language classes in the UK and is also my second language! French is pretty important and is spoken in many parts of the world such as, obviously, France, but also in the northern regions of Africa, Canada, and parts of North America (particularly Louisiana). But while the grammar and vocabulary of French may seem kind of scary, there’s definitely a method to breaking it down.

Personally, I chose to learn French at my own speed with a one-to-one tutor and that worked out pretty well for me. I picked up a reasonably high level after about a year of studying it and now I’m pretty confident. Around me I see other French language students having studied the language for years and can barely introduce themselves, but I always see one big thing they’re doing wrong: You need to be speaking the language right from day one!

By this I mean that a common belief seems to be you can become fluent in a language with a textbook and a couple lessons a week from a teacher and nothing else, and while for the rare few that might work out fine, for most of us (myself included), it simply isn’t enough. If you ask me, we Brits are terrified to actually use our foreign language skills with foreigners because we’re terrified of that inevitable, biting laughter when we fail spectacularly to pronounce something or accidentally tell them that we want to see them naked (true story!). But, in my experience, there really isn’t another way of going about learning a language and French is no exception. Every so often, I made it my mission to head up to London and pretty much embarrass myself in front of people; if I heard people speaking French, I’d try and start talking to them and introduce myself, no matter how badly I pronounced words or how poorly my grammatical structures were. None of it mattered to me because I felt I instantly had a connection with these French speakers and that gave me confidence to continue. This confidence is really important, I think, because without it, there’s no drive to go out and practice it in the real world.

Now with that out of the way, let’s look at French a little more closely.

French is a Romance language derived from Latin, spoken by the Romans once upon a time. French itself isn’t nearly as complicated as Latin by any means but it still has an intimidating set of conjugations and word structures. If your first reaction after looking at this table…

…is to run an hide, don’t worry, I’ve been there. This is exactly the reason why it’s important to break the learning process down. Learn one tense and how it works with a couple of verbs and then you need to start practicing, using it when you speak to people. Often you’ll find that once you’re comfortable speaking to people, you’ll just start naturally using the other tenses, picking them up from people you talk to. That’s the way children learn after all and I think that’s the best way to do it.

Before very long, you’ll be conjugating like a pro and rather than seeing this table in your head when conjugating a verb aloud, the right form will just sort of come to you as it does for native speakers. Once you start thinking in your target language like that, the rest is child’s play, literally.

In short:

  • Get a teacher or a practice partner
  • Read the news in your target language (I recommend Un Jour Un Actu if you’re starting out in French)
  • Talk to other native speakers
  • Get yourself a good grammar textbook for reference
  • Learn the way children do, just by talking, reading, listening to, and experiencing as much of the language as you can!

 

Picture from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_conjugation#Parler                                          Un Jour Un Actu: http://www.1jour1actu.com                                                                                     Header image from www.publicdomainpictures.net