8 Advanced French Learning Tricks That Don’t Feel Like Studying
The first mile of a marathon feels a lot shorter than the last mile.
During the first mile, your muscles are strong, nimble and ready to go.
Before you know it, it’s behind you.
By the time you hit that last mile, you’ve accomplished so much, but it can feel like you have ages to go until you hit that finish line.
Sound familiar to any advanced French learners out there?
Getting over the line from “advanced” to “fluent” can seem even more daunting than finishing a marathon. You’ve mastered grammar, you can read at an advanced level and express most of what you want to—but it can feel like you’ll never be on the level of native speakers.
Here’s the good news. With the right mindset and some new French exercises, it’s possible to cross that finish line.
Today, I want to share with you a few out-of-the-box advanced French learning methods I’ve found useful in my own studies. They’ll target speaking, reading and comprehension skills and will also help get you comfortable with informal French.
Just keep an open mind, relax and run!
Why Should Advanced French Learners Shake Up Their Study Techniques?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about advanced language courses, watching all the French films you can get your hands on or walking around everywhere with French podcasts in your headphones. On the contrary, those resources can undoubtedly be very beneficial for you.
But what I’m suggesting here is that to really get over those advanced learning hurdles—to start conversing fluently in real-world situations—you need to try some activities you wouldn’t typically think of as “studying” French.
As an advanced learner, you need to start testing your French skills in unpredictable and authentic environments. You need to get comfortable understanding and responding to French in a variety of informal situations.
In other words, no number of worksheets and quizzes will truly prepare you to make small talk with your neighbors or throw back some trash talk during a drinking game at the bar.
So it’s important to laugh in French, play games in French and explore the internet in French to ultimately start thinking and communicating in French. These out-of-the-box activities are designed to get you doing just that.
8 Out-of-the-box Activities for Fun Advanced French Learning
1. Read Vie de Merde
Have you ever visited the English-language website FML?
FML stands for “F*** My Life.” If you’re not familiar with it, the concept behind it is very simple: Users share unfortunate day-to-day anecdotes in a few words to brighten up one another’s lives. It’s a bit like when you watch people falling over in a million different ways and you laugh, except that this is less painful for everyone.
“Today, I found out that we have six skunks under my shed. While I was mowing the lawn, they all came out and sprayed me. FML”
Vie de merde (Sh*t Life) is the French version of this site. The design is basically the same but of course, everything is in French.
The best part about this website is that each little story is moderated by the community—you can see the Modérer les VDM (Moderate the FMLs) button on the top blue menu—which is significant for language learners, because it means that you’ll be less likely to find wrong spellings or grammatically incorrect sentences.
But not only that, you’ll also be exposed to lots of colloquial expressions, as well as cultural differences that you might never have thought about before.
I’ll finish this one with a fellow language learner who seems to be having some problems:
“Aujourd’hui, je suis tellement nulle en anglais que le père de ma famille d’accueil en Australie apprend le français pour pouvoir parler avec moi. VDM” (“Today, I am so bad at English that the father of my host family in Australia is learning French in order to be able to communicate with me. FML”)
2. Play Trivia Games/Quizzes
What’s better than having fun learning new facts about the world and practicing French at the same time?
If you’re a trivia fan like me, this is an awesome, addictive way to practice French. The two trivia apps I’d recommend are Trivia Crack and QuizUp. You can play them on your computer, on Facebook or on your mobile devices.
What do you need to do to specifically play in French? In Trivia Crack you’ll be given a language choice every time you start a new game, and in QuizUp you just need to go your settings and establish French as your language. After that, all the quiz topics will automatically show up in French.
Sometimes the questions are even tailored to the language, so you’ll have French-specific questions about French sports, French cinema, French music, etc.
And you know what else is good about these games? Timers!
You usually can’t take a long time to read each question, which will help you develop good scanning skills to extract important information with just a quick glance at the question. This is crucial for advanced learners who can already read competently in French but wouldn’t necessarily understand airport signage while racing to a connecting flight, or who might freeze up before signing any of the endless reams of paperwork that are part of daily life in France.
3. Watch Authentic French Videos on FluentU
A crucial way to prepare for real-world French conversations is to absorb as much authentic French content as possible. But once you’re an advanced learner, it can be hard to push those comprehension skills over the edge. Unless you’re in a total immersion environment, how can you overcome your comprehension weaknesses and know when you’re truly fluent?
That’s where FluentU comes in.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Each video comes with interactive captions that provide in-context definitions and example sentences for any words you don’t know, plus clips from other videos where that word appears.
Then, after you’ve watched, FluentU’s innovative “Learn Mode” transforms the video content into flashcards and exercises that you can use to test your comprehension and home in on your knowledge gaps.
FluentU’s content is organized by level, so you can skip right to the advanced stuff.
Got a busy schedule and not sure when you can fit videos in? Take your learning on the go with the FluentU mobile app for iOS or for Android, so you can enjoy entertaining French videos on public transit, waiting in line at the bank or any other free moment you have.
Check it out with the free trial!
Another great place to watch French videos is FluentU’s French YouTube channel.
The channel takes the best clips on the internet and transforms them into French lessons, FluentU style!
A perfect example is the following video, which uses comedy to teach you how to understand fast spoken French:
Improving your French language skills has never been easier. Subscribe to FluentU’s French YouTube channel today and you’ll get even closer to fluency, one video at a time!
4. Read YouTube Comments
Do you know what bcp means? Beaucoup (A lot).
Are you aware that in colloquial speech, most people drop the ne part of the negation?
These informal French patterns are crucial for jumping from advanced to fluent. Whether you’re texting your French friends or trying to sound smooth while flirting, you’ll need to know how to use contemporary casual language.
That’s what makes French YouTube videos such a great resource. The comments are filled with native speakers using informal/abbreviated French that you can learn from. (Of course, it’s a comment section, so be aware that there’ll be plenty of vulgarity. Make sure you really research and understand a new phrase before you try it out in front of your French host family or your French in-laws.)
Some examples of what you’ll pick up from YouTube comments:
- Et du coup, il se passe quoi à la fin ?
Translates to: So, what happens at the end?
Du coup is a very commonly used expression in spoken French that can mean so/as a result/ultimately.
- Mdr j’ai adoré ta vidéo !
Translates to: Rofl/Lol I loved your video!
Mdr stands for mort de rire (dead from laughing).
- Ah ouais, c vrai !
Translates to: Oh yeah, it’s true!
Ouais is a colloquial way of saying oui (yes) and c is a common abbreviation native speakers use instead of c’est (it is).
- Ta gueule, osef !
Translates to: Shut up, we don’t care/give a damn!
Osef is quite common in YouTube comments, and it stands for on s’en fout (nobody gives a damn). Ta gueule is the short version of ferme ta gueule, which translates to “shut up” and literally means “close your mouth.”
5. Watch “Questions pour un Champion”
Have I already mentioned that I’m a quiz nerd? No? Well, I am!
“Questions pour un Champion” (“Questions for a Champion”) is one of the most well-known TV shows in France. It’s been running nonstop since 1988. Watching this fast-paced show is an awesome way for advanced learners to build comprehension skills (while also picking up some bonus trivia knowledge!).
It may be difficult to follow all the questions and answers at the beginning, but playing along and trying to beat the contestants is a great way to develop your ear!
Each episode lasts around 30 minutes and can be found on the show’s YouTube channel.
In this clip, you can find one of the show’s most remembered participants, which has become a kind of running gag among French speakers.
6. Pretend to Only Speak French with Telemarketers
You probably think I’m crazy, but this is something I used to do to build my advanced French skills, even when I didn’t have native speakers immediately available to practice with.
I was fed up with getting frequently bothered by marketing calls, so I just started to pretend I was French when I answered.
I’d respond only in French, therefore practicing my accent and intonation to really seem natural, and eventually, they’d hang up on me. Yep, that can happen.
Not getting bothered by telemarketers? (Lucky you!) It doesn’t matter—what you need to take from this is that even annoying day-to-day things can be turned to a language learner’s advantage. You just need a little bit of imagination!
7. Change Your Devices’ Language Settings
I’d say this is one of the better-known suggestions regarding language learning, but it really is quite helpful. Changing your devices’ language settings gives you near-constant engagement with French and forces you to think in French.
Think of using your phone in French, for instance. You’ll get daily exposure to simple vocabulary such as save, unlock, send, delete, create, modify, update and many other words. If you feel like you’re lost, you’ll start using context and visual clues to accomplish what you need to, which is great practice for navigating the real world in French. Same goes for the apps you use every day, such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
You could do the same thing for your computer operating system, your MP3 player (if you still have one of those), YouTube’s interface or your TV. You could also change the settings on your internet browser to prioritize which language you’d like to be shown first, in case there are several available for the same website.
8. Think and Talk to Yourself in French
This is something I usually advise to the students I tutor online. I think it’s quite useful and I’m not the only one out there. This exercise makes you realize where your weak points are or what kind of things you’d like to say in French, but don’t really know how.
For instance, imagine you’re walking down the street and you see a woman with her purse wide open. What would you tell her?
Or, let’s say you’re running late for your bus to work. Think in French about the new route you’ll need to take or how long you’ll have to wait for the next bus. Think about what you’re going to say to your boss when you show up—would you know how to say it in French?
Are you about to start preparing your dinner? Speak in French out loud and say things like:
“Well, today I don’t feel like eating salad again, I did that yesterday, why not cook some broccoli? Wait, do I have any left? Let me see… Oh damn! I forgot to buy it yesterday. I should’ve written it down on my phone.”
Would you know how to say all that in French? No? Then you’ve found a little hole in your speech, something you’d naturally say in English that you don’t know yet how to say in French. Filling those gaps is key to going from advanced to fluent.
There you go, seven little advanced tricks I’ve used to develop my French along the years. Take as many as you want, adapt them, perfect them or use them to develop new ones and help others improve their languages as much as I’ve tried helping you.
Bon apprentissage! (Happy learning!)
Beatriz Moreno is the creator and hands behind the language blog Anything but language, where she shares her love for all things language in both her native Spanish and in English.