9 Expert Tips on How to Tutor French
As a French tutor, you’re in a unique position with your students.
You might be their only instructor or you might be a supplemental instructor they work with after class.
But who’s there for you when you need help being a better French tutor?
Today, we’re going to tutor you in French tutoring.
We’re more than happy to share our accumulated expertise and French tutoring ideas with you so you can tutor to your full potential.
- 1. Structure Your Lessons to Target Specific Skills
- 2. Create a Safe Tutoring Environment
- 3. Address French Anxiety
- 4. Make French Meaningful to Them
- 5. Make Learning Fun
- 6. Use Multimedia Tools
- 7. Create a Custom Reading List
- 8. Give Fun and Meaningful Homework
- 9. Set Your Tutoring Business Up for Success
1. Structure Your Lessons to Target Specific Skills
It’s critical that your students feel equally confident reading or listening to French as they do speaking and writing it.
Often, students complain that they’re able to understand texts and conversations, but are frustrated that they can’t participate and express themselves to the fullest.
As a tutor, it’s your job to address this issue from the beginning. The key is to design your lesson plans in such a way that your activities adequately target specific skills.
Challenge them, but not too much
Try to spend more time on the activities that target the skills your students find most challenging, so they can get lots of practice and build confidence during tutoring sessions.
You want to make the activities challenging, but not overwhelming so that the students can make clear and steady progress.
Don’t overwhelm them with too much new content
You want to make sure that your lesson plans follow no more than one theme and no more than one new grammar concept.
The theme is where your students will learn new vocabulary, such as French cooking, while the grammar is where your students acquire the tools to accurately express themselves, such as through conjugation.
Follow a lesson plan with at least one clear goal for each skill
A great goal can be as simple as “use the present simple tense in a sentence” and as specific as “express your emotions using the vocabulary of feelings you’ve learned in this lesson.”
It’s also useful to add a rough indicator of how much time needs to be allocated for each activity.
What a good French tutoring lesson should cover
The outline below illustrates how you might portion out time per activity. Feel free to modify and spend more or less time on each activity depending on your students’ comfort level with each skill.
A warm-up activity (10 minutes)
Kickstart the lesson and set the tone for the rest of the class. Make sure that your student has absorbed the vocabulary and structures from the previous lesson.
- Casual dialogue with the student
- Review drill
- Brief written quiz
- Oral presentation on a given subject (exposé)
- Homework discussion and correction.
Listening activity (15 minutes)
This activity is designed to verify how your students understand French conversations. Pre-teach new words or concepts orally before playing the video or audio.
Write them on a piece of paper or whiteboard and explain their meaning using definitions, synonyms, images, puppets and/or gestures. Ask students to re-explain the vocabulary using their own words, and don’t hesitate to translate into English.
- Watch a French ad
- Watch a French YouTube video
- Listen to a French song
Reading and writing activity (10 minutes)
Expand on the words and concepts introduced in the listening activity by letting the student read out loud and write. Let the student read first, and take notes of words and expressions that were mispronounced, difficult liaisons, etc. Then, say these words out loud again, allowing the student to repeat them correctly.
- Read a French article
- Read a French print ad
- Spell a word
- Write words that were incorrectly pronounced on the board and circle the particular syllable or sound the student needs to watch out for
- Dictation (dictée)
- Write a paragraph using the expressions learned during the lesson
Grammar and vocabulary (5 minutes)
Discover and introduce new grammar concepts using the new words learned across all of this session’s activities.
- Create flashcards and lists
- Find synonyms for new words
Speaking activity (15 minutes)
Activate all new knowledge orally.
- Q&A drills with the student
- Rephrase a sentence using a specific structure/word or information
- Rephrase a sentence without using a given structure or word
Wrap-up (5 minutes)
Address all unanswered questions and end the session by going over what was learned.
Format ideas: Q&A drills to verify assimilation.
2. Create a Safe Tutoring Environment
As a tutor, it’s important that you find ways of putting your students at ease. Here are some ways you can do that.
Give plenty of encouragement
As French tutors, we often forget how self-conscious we ourselves were as beginners or even as more experienced students.
However motivated your students may seem, don’t neglect the importance of them getting some gratification from their tutor. Letting them know that they’re on the right track and doing well is simple, but it goes a long way for your learners.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not about complimenting them all the time, especially when going over something they already know—or worse when they’ve made a mistake. Don’t be disingenuous.
Rather, it’s about telling your students that you notice they’ve made progress, made accurate observations or raised interesting questions that demonstrate that they better understand how the language works.
Tutoring should be a time for your students to ask you any questions without fear of being judged. Tell them that you’re there for them and that they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for clarification as many times as they need.
It’s important also that your students understand that there are no silly questions. You may sometimes assume that they know something and go too fast for them, especially if you’re not teaching them French from the beginning. You may simply not know what they know or don’t know! Check for comprehension before moving on to any new topic.
Create a pleasant learning environment
It’s particularly important to deliver a comfortable, memorable tutoring experience if you wish to retain your current students, and if you wish to have them spread the word about your services!
Your environment will set the tone for the rest of the class and signal to your French learners that this is a sacred space for learning the French language.
If tutoring at your home
Be sure that your workspace or tutoring room features plenty of French books and magazines, oversized word billboards, maps in French and French board games.
This will have the benefit of stirring curiosity and exposing students to multiple aspects of the French language and its associated cultures. Encourage your students to borrow some of your books, and ask them for their feedback during the next session.
If tutoring outside of your home
Using a location such as a library near you, a coffee shop or even a student’s home, you may not be able to recreate this environment, so try to work on tangential elements, such as the documents and worksheets that you bring with you. This will become a part of the learning environment and will radically enhance tutoring sessions.
For example, create and bring your own colorful worksheets, and place them within your very own “tutoring package.” This can be anything from a binder with each student’s name on a handwritten tag to a simple colored folder for each main chapter or lesson covered.
On the front page of this folder, you could glue collages of pictures matching the themes of the lesson—the Eiffel Tower and a Paris map if teaching about Paris, bubbles from the Asterix comics and pictures of dolmens from Brittany if teaching about the Gauls or the French’s ancestors.
3. Address French Anxiety
Focus on the similarities between French and English
Given the long, shared linguistic history between French and English, there are many words that your students already know! Don’t wait before introducing your students to real friends—words that sound the same and mean the same thing. These easy-to-learn words will motivate students to stay on track.
The best way to do this is to include at least seven new cognates during each tutoring session. Alternatively, print out and hand out a list of 50 real friends every month. Introduce them to the “annoying false friends” using similar strategies—these French words and their meanings are easier to memorize because they sound like English, even if they mean totally different things.
Introduce them to etymology
That is, the root of French words. There’s always a great story behind words, and it will prove incredibly easy for your students to remember words if they understand why they’re composed a certain way.
You may also want to consider investing in the incredibly well-written and informative “Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue française” (Etymology Dictionary of the French Language) by Presses Universitaires de France.
When introducing the word during your lesson, start by telling your students the story behind the word and ask them to guess its meaning in English.
Teach some cool mnemonics
This is so they can memorize words and yes, grammar rules, more easily. Add a cultural touch and teach authentic French moyens mnémotechniques (mnemonics).
Here are some of our favorites:
- Nourrir prend deux “r” car on se nourrit plusieurs fois. — Nourrir (to feed) has two r’s because we feed multiple times.
- Mourir prend un “r” car on meurt une seule fois. — Mourir (to die) has one r because we die one time.
- Courir prend un “r” car on manque d’air en courant. — Courir (to run) has one r because we lack air when running; note that “air” and “r” have the same pronunciation in French.
Ditch memorization and promote the scientific method when teaching grammar. The method focuses on letting students make an observation and formulate a hypothesis based on what they notice. Then, complement this with another, richer text so they can experiment and find evidence to support or reject their hypothesis.
If you can, let them reach a conclusion by themselves. The best way to do this is to guide your students with questions. For example, if teaching reflexive verbs, pick or write a simple text rich in conjugated reflexive verbs, ideally using different tenses, but only using one pronoun like je (I).
In the first question, ask students to circle the reflexive verbs, including the particles, and ask them what they notice. Ask them specific questions about where the particles are located in relation to the verbs and to other elements in the sentences, such as the subjects and objects.
Once they’ve formulated a hypothesis, add another text and repeat the process. Ask them to write down their conclusions.
4. Make French Meaningful to Them
Get to know your students
How do they learn best? What French lessons are most useful and interesting to them? The best way to do this is to hand out periodic questionnaires about learning preferences and their satisfaction with your tutoring.
You can also give them a tentative curriculum in each session and give them the option to choose between two resources for the lesson.
For example, if your lesson is about food and you plan on using something to reinforce the lesson, ask your students whether they prefer a video about French cooking or an infographic detailing a recipe step-by-step.
Add real-world content to your lessons
Let’s face it. Your students don’t always want to learn from textbooks. They wish they could speak French already!
Keep them motivated and boost their confidence by presenting them with a diversity of real French materials that are appropriate to their level. This will get them excited to learn new vocabulary and will prove a lot more effective than using traditional study materials.
Here are some underrated, yet highly effective formats to try.
They’re short and include lots of common buzzwords that your students will encounter in real life. To find ads, simply buy a French magazine or newspaper or use Google Images to retrieve specific past campaigns.
Look for specific brands in the French-speaking world and review the vocabulary together. If using a video ad, for example through YouTube, make sure your students view the ad two times before introducing them to the vocabulary.
Working on these materials with your students is a great strategy to give them the tools to browse the French web quickly and on their own.
To best way to get started is to take a screenshot of a site’s home page and review the vocabulary together. Ask your students questions about the site, what it’s about and what they know about the brand/product from the homepage.
These are packed with information, and they make it fun and easy to learn vocabulary by seeing both images and text. Use them, in particular, to practice price comparisons between the objects in a catalog.
Ask your students to create their own French shopping list by cutting out images from the catalog. It’s a fun way to acquire the vocabulary they want to learn!
This is a fun way to expose your students to French culture using everyday objects. If you’re able to go to France often, don’t throw these little items away—keep them to share with your students.
Alternatively, head over to Amazon France and purchase select items. Feel free to hand them to your students intact so they can also taste real French food, but the packages on their own include lots of vocabulary.
Aside from being colorful and highly entertaining, they’re filled with common, important words and idiomatic expressions that your students need to know.
To find comic strips, type in the name of the comic in the search bar in Google Images. Then, simply cut out strips and discuss them together, such as dialogues, characters and character choices.
Get fully immersed in French
Technology is a tremendous help to create fun, modern lesson plans and bring some life to your French tutoring sessions. Here are some immersion hacks using technology that you should recommend to your students.
Change phone settings to French
That includes Siri (if they use iOS) or Cortana (if they use Windows) so they can practice giving instructions in French. Ask them to add French keyboards so they can text and write in French using proper accents.
Change homepage to a French site
For your students to make progress, they need to be in direct contact with the French language, every day, especially if you tutor them only once a week. Some great sites include Le Monde, the French Metro’s official site or even the French Yahoo.
Have them sign a no-English immersion pledge
This is a great way for them to commit to continuous learning. Have them commit to French immersion at dedicated hours of the day when they won’t use any English at all.
If they’re up for a challenge, make this a no-English-at-all pledge where they’ll need to use French 24/7 (except for normal interaction in English with colleagues, friends and family who don’t speak French).
5. Make Learning Fun
Games are important because they let your students learn by playing, not studying. This strategy adds a motivating factor to the learning process: winning! Better yet, it shows them learning can be entertaining as well.
Here are some cool French game ideas.
Jacques a dit (Simon says)
This is a great game to practice commands by letting students act out what they understand directly rather than using lengthy explanations. The game is very simple and fun.
Students need to execute the command every time you say, “Jacques a dit” (Simon says). However, they shouldn’t move an inch if you omit the “Jacques a dit” phrase and only give a command!
Trivial Pursuit in French
This is a bit advanced, but it’s the perfect game to test each student’s general knowledge and familiarity with multiple aspects of French culture.
To get started, you can purchase the French version of Trivial Pursuit (note that there are many versions!) or create your own questions and use a regular Trivial Pursuit board, if you already have one.
Le Juste Prix (The Price Is Right)
The internet is filled with authentic questionnaires from this popular French TV game. Modify the rules of the game to make sure that your students can play on their own. Reward them for correct answers or certain successes.
For example, if they reach ten correct answers in under five minutes, give them a cookie, or give them a French poster for twenty correct answers.
Make sure you have the French Scrabble game around! This fun word game will help your students accumulate and activate vocabulary quickly, as well as practice French spelling.
Take a field trip together
Take the class outside and spend the hour with your students in a French environment. This will help to create a bond with your students and get them excited about their tutoring lessons with you.
This will also help make the retention of new knowledge more effective as they will be learning through real-life experiences, not just theories. All in all, this will validate their learning and show them that what you’ve learned together directly applies to the real world.
Here are some great ideas where they can experience the French language outside the classroom.
Determine the location of your treasure in a public area, such as a park or the beach, and create four or five clues written on pieces of paper. Each clue should take your students to a new location where they’ll find another clue, and the last clue should take them to the treasure.
Make sure they’re all well hidden so nobody can retrieve them without the clues. Then draw a map in French mentioning key landmarks and directions, but don’t note the location of your treasure.
What better way to let students enjoy the best France has to offer than to take them for a fun get-together at a French bakery?
If your town has a bakery operated by native French speakers, use this place as an opportunity for students to practice questions and order food in French.
French art exhibition
Search for exhibitions of French artists at your local museum or events through your local Alliance Française—and then go together!
Ask students to pick a work of art on display, or an element of the event you’re attending, and have them research it so they can tell you more about it.
6. Use Multimedia Tools
Modern technology is a part of our everyday lives. Show students that they can consume and appreciate multimedia content in French, too!
Opt for authentic digital content and pick from a diversity of sources to make it more effective. Here are some great ones to start:
YouTube, which you might be using already, features lots of French-language channels along with news clips, ads and music videos.
You can create and easily share your own videos privately with your students, and interact with them in the comments section. This quick tutorial will guide you through the process.
podCloud features an impressive collection of French podcasts that you can incorporate freely into your lessons. Some great podcasts for advanced students include the art and philosophy courses by the Collège de France.
You should also check out The French Podcast if you’re looking for more accessible, natural conversations for your beginner to intermediate students. This helpful article lists some fantastic podcasts to get them started.
Before your class, watch the video clip and write down important vocabulary and verbs. Watch them together once or twice without context, and ask your students to give you a general overview of what they understood, in French if possible. Then, introduce keywords and useful verbs and watch it again. Check once more for understanding.
Another way to do this is to use a language learning program like FluentU. It uses authentic content in the form of video clips such as movie clips, music videos, commercials and more. Every video comes with interactive subtitles that have been checked and vetted.
It can save you a ton of work. There are built-in features such as flashcards and personalized quizzes, plus you can assign content and then check the students’ progress separately.
Paroles de clips from TV5Monde’s language-learning website, Langue française, is a great resource to learn French through popular French music. The songs are divided into levels A2 and B1. There are vocabulary sections, pronunciation sections and quizzes so that your students can the most out of listening to the songs.
Your students will find a variety of recent and classic feature-length films and documentaries along with TV series on Netflix. Encourage students to find things to watch in French, and to watch their favorite programs with or without English subtitles.
To maximize their viewing sessions, give them pointers on which programs they’ll enjoy based on their personality and fluency level, then discuss it together in your next class.
7. Create a Custom Reading List
Strategically curating a list that matches your students’ proficiency levels can dramatically boost their confidence and show them that reading in French isn’t an insurmountable goal.
Here are some of our tips about how to get your students into reading and how to create a custom reading list.
Ask students what they want to read
This seems like an obvious first step, and it’s the key to success. To do this, create a short personality questionnaire to get as much information as possible about your readers’ preferences.
This helpful article by Education World features some high-quality questionnaire templates appropriate for students in any grade. Ask them about their current favorite books and movies, least favorite ones, what genres they like and what their ideal story is.
Includes titles they’ll enjoy
Try to use your knowledge of both French literature and your students’ personalities to create this list. If you struggle, use the Booknode book suggestion tool.
This very helpful robot finds literary recommendations based on themes, genres and keywords. Each list includes plenty of information about the titles in question, perfect to help you screen for the best possible titles for your students.
Set reading goals
Ask your students to give you an indication of how much time they can commit to reading books from the list, including how many books they plan on finishing by a certain timeframe, how often they plan on reading per week and regular hours to practice reading out loud.
There is no wrong answer, but ask them to respect or exceed their own reading target and even sign a reading pledge to solidify their commitment.
Revise your list every three months
Include between 6 and 15 titles to choose from, preferably from books of different formats, genres and lengths.
Students may not read all of them during that timeframe, but the idea is to give them options and expose them to a variety of titles you feel will benefit their reading and learning goals.
Encourage them to take notes
Reading itself is fantastic, but the best way to retain the vocabulary and expressions they’ve learned in the books is to write them down and memorize them.
Kindles make it easy to mark down and view notes, but if your students prefer the old paperbacks, the trick is to avoid disrupting their reading and compartmentalize reading and note-taking.
Rather than looking up every unfamiliar word while reading, suggest that your students underline them, then write them down in their notebooks and look them up in their dictionary at the end of their chapter or after reading a few of pages.
However, some words will appear a lot more frequently than others, in a given chapter or even on a single page; in this case, encourage students not to wait and research these important words so they can follow the story more easily.
Talk about their books during tutoring hours
Use tutoring sessions to circle back, guide them and elevate their reading. Here are some activities.
Café littéraire (Literary café)
This is a relaxed time to have lively, opinionated discussions about a given book. Ask your student for their overall impressions about the book, its themes, character choices and writing style.
Then, go beyond the world of opinions and focus on the artistic, historical or cultural elements they’ve picked up from the book and to what extent these validate or differ from their previous opinions about French society.
This traditional French exercise requires that students prepare a structured oral and written presentation about a book they have read. Leave it up to them to structure it as they see fit, as long as the presentation is packed with information.
It involves a lot more research and questioning and is a fantastic strategy to check for understanding while also building solid conversational skills.
Ask them to write a short essay inspired by the book they read. This “sequel” should respect the author’s style and address questions that were unanswered in the book’s ending. Leave it up to them to find a better, more creative ending!
8. Give Fun and Meaningful Homework
It matters that your students want to do their homework. Homework should be the opportunity to go beyond what was studied in tutoring sessions, through research and independent study time.
It should also be the time to gather very specific questions about the topics discussed in the previous session for the next one. This demonstrates that your students have wrestled with difficult concepts and may need your collaboration to solve the remaining questions.
Create a passion board in French
Your student’s passion board is a collection of all the things that represent them, in French. Encourage students to gather representative images, news articles, vocabulary words and quotes that illustrate their personality and place them onto the board. They can browse the internet, French magazines and French dictionaries to curate these elements.
Ask them to add at least five different themes or passions. Complement their production with a spontaneous oral discussion where they will introduce themselves and discuss the elements on the board and their passions more extensively.
Profile a leading French person or landmark
Take an investigative approach to this exercise and ask students to pick a French figure of their choice and to research them as if they were a journalist.
This fun activity requires solid research, writing and even speaking skills. Students can use as many or as few resources as they choose, including French sites, French social networks, and of course, French TV and newspapers.
Ultimately, the goal is to come up with a dynamic profile, whether by writing a short biography-style article or an interview or acting out a mock TV documentary about the topic.
Surf a French site based on their interests
Find a site related to a theme your students like and that you’ve studied together. If you’re studying fashion, head over to the sites of French couture powerhouses Le Bon Marché or Chanel. Pre-teach the site’s key vocabulary, typically found in the categories or page headlines, but ask students to research the vocabulary they want to learn.
For a week, ask them to navigate the site and monitor its social media accounts to absorb vocabulary more easily and find more information about the assigned company or person.
During your next session, ask students specific questions based on the elements they’ve learned on the site, and play the site search game: ask them to take you to specific pages on the site, such as “Dresses,” “Bags” or “Beauty.” They should be able to navigate the site very quickly.
Ask students to write down each night’s dreams in French when they wake up in the morning. They can adopt any style or format they chose, but they should use as many descriptive verbs and adjectives as possible.
Devote your following tutoring session to recapping the exercise where, in addition to handing out their dream diary for correction, they’ll share with you their favorite dream of the week in detail orally.
French home kitchen
Ask your students to cook or bake at least one recipe a week using French cooking sites such as Marmiton. Then, ask them to re-write the recipe in their own words, explaining why they chose the dish, how it was received by the people who tasted it.
They can also include detailed review of the sensory elements of the dish, including taste, smell and presentation. They should be as descriptive as possible. Ask them to share it on Google Docs or their blog, if they have one!
9. Set Your Tutoring Business Up for Success
To keep your tutoring sustainable, you’ll have to do certain things to maintain it and eventually expand it if that’s part of your goal. It is a business after all! Here are some of our best tips to do that.
Come prepared for classes
This goes without saying, but you need to make sure that you know your curriculum and its content so you can anticipate any potential questions.
Review a grammar rule if you’re unsure of the details before your tutoring session. There’s nothing wrong with double-checking before class, but opening a dictionary or showing your students that you don’t know something is a big no-no!
Keep a good track record
Take notes of what you taught in each session and send progress reports. Stay on top of homework and be sure that you know what assignments your students were supposed to complete.
This way, you can open your tutoring session by circling back and activating recent structures and vocabulary. It won’t stick unless they use it frequently!
Communicate with your students
Let them know at least 48 hours ahead of time if you need to reschedule, and give them two to three alternative dates to give them options. Be accommodating if you reschedule.
Also, be upfront about payment and terms so there are no surprises on both ends and you can both focus on learning rather than money. The best way to do this is to discuss it and put it in writing, such as an email asking for confirmation that they accept these terms.
It’s great to show flexibility in your schedule and welcome questions outside the classroom, but this should be within reason.
Make sure that your students know which times of the day are off-limits, and suggest that you meet an additional time each week if they ask so many questions that it becomes difficult to address it all outside the classroom.
Have systems in place
Knowing the administrative and bookkeeping aspects of tutoring may not be what you signed up for, but mastering them is the only way to ensure that you’ll be successful at it, and thus, committed to it for the long haul.
- Unless your students pay you cash, you may have to report your earnings from tutoring to the tax authority of your country. This should encourage you to price yourself accordingly! If you tutor French using an online platform such as Verbling or Upwork, for example, they will require you to fill out a W-9, if you’re based in the U.S.
- The best solution to optimize your taxable income from tutoring is to set up a company, ideally an LLC, and bill your students under this entity. If you’re new to the entrepreneurial experience, LegalZoom is a cost-effective option to get you started with the registration process.
- You may also want to sign up for a corporate bank account and set up e-transfers. Zelle is a great option to accept payment quickly from your students using nothing but your email address.
Seek out new students
It’s important to actively and continuously look for additional students if you wish to live well from your tutoring business.
- Engage in simple marketing activities, such as word of mouth, fliers in schools and visible public places, such as your church or local supermarket, and develop a network within the French-speaking community.
- Create a simple website and a LinkedIn profile detailing your experience, services and contact information. If you have little to no coding experience and lack the budget to develop a site, Wix is one of the easiest quality platforms to create a professional-looking website quickly. Register for a web domain on GoDaddy for a premium site with a custom domain name or simply use a Wix domain for your site.
- Try paid Google or Facebook ads using your city’s keyword and “French tutoring.” Define a budget and make sure that you understand the Google AdSense bidding process and Facebook Ad targeting before you get started. Don’t be bashful about googling what other French tutors in your area and major cities do for marketing inspiration.
Try clever pricing strategies
Giving your students flexibility on pricing is a great way to secure them as a client for a long period and to encourage them to have multiple weekly sessions. To do so, give them a good deal. Everybody loves knowing that they’re able to get a service at a good price.
- List your services and cost per session, per five sessions, per ten sessions, etc. Incentivize them to book your services for multiple sessions by giving them discounts on lessons, but don’t give it away. Your discounted rate should be no more than 3% for 5 sessions and no more than 5% for 10 sessions.
- Create monthly plans and 3-month plans at a reduced rate per session of 8% and 12% respectively but require a full, upfront payment. This is a great way to increase cash flow in your business.
- To promote referral, a good option is to give your students a session for free if their referrals book for a month. This will basically mean that your cost of acquisition is an hour of tutoring, often a much lowest rate than your marketing effort if you factoring the time and additional cost of marketing.
Now that you know all the secrets to learning how to tutor French, we have no doubt that you’ll have all the tools to thrive as a French tutor.
Bonne chance ! (Good luck!)