Have you heard of “Mount Fluency”?
No, it’s not near Mount Everest on the border of Nepal and China, but I’d argue that climbing “Mount Fluency” is just as arduous and not for the faint of heart!
If you’re studying advanced French, you’re likely very familiar with this dreaded climb.
In this popular comic by artist Itchy Feet (Malachi Ray Rempen), “Mount Fluency” is preceded by “Beginner’s Hill” where all the French basics such as greetings, regular verbs and noun gender live.
After “Beginner’s Hill,” learners scale “Conversational Ridge” where they reach a level of French that makes French conversations pretty pleasant—even if they struggle finding a word or two and have to repeat themselves for French natives.
But after “Conversational Ridge” comes the biggest upward challenge of all: “Mount Fluency.” This is a seemingly relentless climb to learn all the French necessary to become as fluent in French as a native French speaker.
So, how do you get to the top of “Mount Fluency”?
Well, you have to master advanced French, of course, and here’s how!
What Is Advanced French? The C1 and C2 French Levels
In general, “advanced French” means that a speaker can use and understand the French language to a very high level.
Advanced French is categorized as having flexible use of the language in most or all of the situations that native French speakers have. That means that an advanced French speaker should be able to keep up and participate in almost all conversations with French native speakers and have good French listening, reading and writing skills.
To achieve this advanced French level, a learner should have mastered all grammatical points of the French language. That means that they’re comfortable conjugating verbs in all tenses and using different moods, and they can easily navigate the world of French noun genders and complex gender agreement patterns. Further, some claim that advanced French speakers should have a vocabulary of at least 8000 words.
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages spreads “advanced French” over two levels. These levels are called C1 and C2, and they logically follow the levels A1, A2, B1 and B2 (in this order).
According to the Alliance Française (French Alliance), a learner needs a minimum of 810 hours of study to reach the C1 level and a minimum of 1060 hours of study to reach the C2 level. These estimates are by no means facts, however. There’s quite a debate over what an effective “hour of study” looks like, and some learners may take much longer than the Alliance Française’s estimate to reach an advanced level of French.
C1: Level of Basic and Professional Fluency
The first level of advanced French as described by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is C1.
A French learner at the C1 level is able to understand a large array of long French texts, including subtextual elements and nuances. This means that the learner can read just about everything and understand it, except perhaps very technical documents or scientific journals.
C1 learners can also understand and respond in fluent French to a wide variety of oral conversations without struggling for words. This means that conversations happen smoothly without much need for learners to repeat themselves or for native French speakers to ask for clarification because they don’t understand what a C1 learner is saying.
C1 is often regarded as the “professional” level of French. That means that learners at the C1 level are able to use French comfortably in a professional work setting. It also means that a C1 speaker can carry out all of their work tasks in the French language without their level of French being a barrier to them getting the job done.
In conclusion, C1 is a very functional level of advanced French. In fact, many French learners stop actively learning the language once they’ve reached this stage, and remain comfortably at this level, especially if they do not live in a French-speaking country or city.
C2: Level of Complete French Mastery
The second level of advanced French—and, in fact, the last stage of learning French—is called C2.
In short, C2 is regarded as a quasi-native level of French. That means that a C2 French learner has a level of French that’s almost equal to that of a native French speaker. While there will always be small things that non-native speakers of French never master such as slang, cultural references and technical or specialized words, C2 speakers are for all intents and purposes at the top of “Mount Fluency.”
Learners at the C2 level can understand virtually everything they read and hear without any difficulty with comprehension. They also have no issues expressing themselves using precise language to exact meaning. They can read French literature with ease, and they’ve honed the craft of writing in French so that they can produce well-written essays.
To be clear, C2 isn’t an easily attained level. In fact, many French learners never get there, and that’s okay! It’s very difficult to reach the C2 level of French without living in a French-speaking place for a long period of time, and as mentioned in the previous section, some learners are comfortable and functional at the C1 level.
How to Learn Advanced French in 7 Steps
Whether you want to reach the C1 or the C2 level of advanced French, you’ll have to change the way you’ve been learning French up until now. Learning beginner or intermediate French has been pretty straightforward, but now you’re in the wild!
Check out these tips for learning advanced French and scaling “Mount Fluency!”
1. Grow Advanced & Specialized Vocabulary
By the advanced French levels, learners have generally mastered “everyday” and common vocabulary. Because of this, learners can navigate a wide variety of common French situations. These include ordering food at a restaurant and buying food as well as meeting new people and carrying on a fruitful conversation.
What words are left to learn, then?
Well, advanced learners need to grow their advanced French vocabulary. This vocabulary includes specialized words that are used in specific situations or registers of French.
A specialized situation is one that not all French speakers encounter such as a specific work or academic situation. A specialized register of French is generally a level of formality needed or even words and phrases associated with a subculture or region of a French-speaking place. Learning advanced French culture is crucial for digging below the surface and developing a deep understanding of the French language.
To grow specialized vocabulary, I recommend focusing on one topic, situation or register at a time. For example, learners who want to use French for work should focus on Business French or Scientific French to learn advanced French expressions related to these situations. Some learners with particular interests may choose to focus on those to grow their specialized vocabulary such as Science Fiction & Fantasy Fiction French.
As you did with beginner and intermediate French learning, you should engage all four areas of language learning. This includes practicing speaking, listening, reading and writing skills within the specialized French vocabulary. Doing this is crucial for transferring your passive knowledge of these subjects into active knowledge so you can use these advanced French phrases and words in real life.
There are many places online to learn advanced French words. For example, you may be able to find an advanced French vocabulary list related to your topic of choice or even lists with classes of words such as advanced French adjectives.
2. Read Widely
In previous levels of French, the mantra has been “read material that you enjoy.” In other words, in the beginner and intermediate stages of French, learners have been encouraged to read material that interests them in order to be engaged in what they’re reading and making learning French more enjoyable.
With advanced French, learners are encouraged to widen their nets and start reading things that they wouldn’t necessarily choose. This is because advanced French requires a wealth of vocabulary and knowledge in all areas of the French language.
In order to be exposed to as many different French words, phrases and variants as possible, you should read everything.
I’ll repeat: read everything!
This means you should read fiction and non-fiction, news articles and informal blog posts and across many genres, including classic and contemporary literature. In fact, by reading French literature, you can learn advanced French sentences that you wouldn’t encounter in everyday life or in other forms of the written word.
If reading widely intimidates you, remember that this doesn’t need to be a time-consuming commitment. In fact, there are many opportunities to read widely during “dead time.” Simply get a subscription to a French newspaper or magazine or follow French-only social media accounts, and you’ll be able to access bite-sized French reading opportunities at all times of the day.
3. Take an Advanced French Course
While learning advanced French can feel overwhelming due to the sheer amount of French that exists at the advanced level, there’s a way to structure the perceived chaos. Namely, advanced French courses are a great way to learn new and even specialized vocabulary as well as sharpen your writing or speaking skills.
Advanced French courses often offer a review of grammar skills and help to refine them. Advanced French requires a certain finesse, and even native French speakers spend many years learning how to write and speak eloquently in French.
In fact, writing in French at an advanced French level is often a skill all on its own. There are specific academic writing structures that French speakers learn in order to master the French academic writing style. A course in how to write in French could be essential to mastering the C1 and C2 levels.
Lucky for us, many C1 and C2 or specialized courses are available online. French universities all around the world even offer C1 and C2 courses for non-French natives. For an added challenge, advanced French learners can take a course in French that’s meant for native speakers on a subject that interests them. That means that you could take a history course in French at a French university if you wish to grow your vocabulary in history.
In lieu of courses, many advanced French learners opt to use textbooks for improving their French. There are many advanced French grammar books available for purchase that allow learners to grow skills such as advanced French verbs.
4. Immerse in French-only Web Content
Did I mention there was a secret way to learn specialized French vocabulary and read widely all at once?
In fact, you probably use this tool daily—if not, hourly—and it’s a great way to passively and actively learn advanced French. This tool is the Worldwide Web!
The internet is a tool that’s increasingly becoming more central to our lives. Between work, leisure and even household maintenance and family time, it’s rare to not be connected to the web in some way.
Despite the downsides of all this screen time, you can harness this connectivity to learn advanced French! The idea is simple: to maximize on the centrality of the internet in our lives, make all your internet time French time.
This means that you should aim to do all your internet surfing in French. Use Google in French, read news articles and blog posts in French, search Wikipedia (or other reference websites) in French. You should watch videos in French, look for recipes in French and even look at memes in French.
Videos in French are plentiful on the internet, but you should aim to find videos with corresponding subtitles that accurately transcribe what is being said. Such videos can be found on FluentU.
With FluentU, each French word in the subtitles is clickable. This means you can select whichever word you want to translate and get a detailed dictionary definition complete with grammatical information, audio and other example sentences. Further, these words can then be turned into flashcards for later review. This will allow you to practice the words that are relevant to your level of advanced French and grow your vocabulary quickly and easily.
Check out the thousands of French videos on FluentU today!
All of this French-only content will contribute to learning advanced French because the internet is the place where advanced French thrives—even if you can’t live in a French-speaking place.
5. Speak with Native French Speakers Often
Speaking is perhaps the hardest skill to bring to the C2 level. This is because many advanced French courses and textbooks focus on reading French literature or writing advanced French texts. As such, learning advanced French conversation could be pretty tricky.
Tricky, but not impossible. There are something like 80 million native French speakers worldwide as well as many more millions who speak French as a second language, after all.
Learning advanced conversational French should be intentional on the part of the learner. Aside from regular conversations with French speakers about common topics, aim to have conversations about specific advanced French topics such as French literature, news stories, films and cultural happenings.
To achieve this, I recommend that advanced French learners pre-plan and structure conversations with language exchange partners, if possible. This means being clear with exchange partners about what you want to achieve with practice conversations and even preparing yourself for these conversations. Preparing yourself could be researching a topic, watching a film in French or learning about an aspect of French culture.
Further, don’t underestimate talking to yourself as a way of learning to speak advanced French. After watching a video, reading something or learning about a topic in French, for example, give a short oral presentation or summary or have a mock conversation with yourself. Record this too, and you’ll be surprised at how this will improve your advanced spoken French!
6. Learn French Accents & Slang
In a way, advanced French learners have been deceived. This is because the French they’ve learned in courses is often Standard French.
Standard French is the dialect of French used in official communications from governments, in universities and in mainstream media.
Where’s the deception in this?
Well, quite frankly, Standard French is not the French that actual French speakers use. Even speakers that speak something very close to Standard French—often those of the upper-middle class in Paris—use French slang that needs to be learned separately.
Because of this, a large part of advanced French learning should include learning French slang and colloquialisms. Learning slang and colloquialisms are quite easy. They’re used everywhere in French media such as TV shows, YouTube videos and movies. Even comedians are a great way to learn advanced French.
Further, advanced French learners should even study French dialects. In fact, there are French dialects from all corners of the world. There are a number of distinct French dialects within France itself, in other European countries such as Belgium and Switzerland, in Africa, and even in North America.
Learners should aim to have a surface understanding of all of them. This allows a greater understanding of the language and makes identifying and understanding these dialects easier. Learners should also have an in-depth understanding of the region they want to live, study or work in.
7. Choose the Right Advanced French Resources
To learn advanced French, you’re going to need more than just tips: you’ll need a plan! And for a plan, resources are where you start. You can choose to study with multiple resources or delve into one at a time.
Let’s check out the most popular ones together.
Advanced French Apps
In the past ten years, the number of apps available for our smartphones has skyrocketed, and it’s no surprise that this is also true for apps that teach advanced French.
Most commonly, learners will find French apps that claim to take you from a beginner (A0) level of French to an advanced (C1 or C2) level of French. In theory, this means that you should be able to go from zero French to fluent French with one simple app.
Oftentimes, this isn’t the case. In fact, with such apps, it appears that they’re “front-loaded.” That means that a lot of effort is put into creating fruitful lessons at the beginner levels, and then there’s less available for higher levels of French. The quality of the app often diminishes for C1 and C2 learners or they find that the material they’re able to access is too easy for advanced French learners.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything useful for C1 or C2 learners, however, but I recommend that you watch out for gimmicks.
Advanced French learners should find an app that focuses on a specific advanced skill such as building advanced vocabulary, learning advanced grammar or listening to native French content.
For apps that promise to be a well-rounded advanced French resource, make sure they include the four language learning areas as well as lots of opportunities for active usage of the language. Active language usage includes comprehension or grammar exercises, writing practice and speaking and listening opportunities.
Websites for Advanced French
In addition to apps, many websites offer informal advanced French resources to learn advanced French online.
These websites often include grammar and vocabulary explanations and exercises as well as listening and reading comprehension exercises. Doing such exercises is a great way to practice your advanced French in a safe environment. If you make mistakes here, you’ll be better equipped to use advanced French in real situations with French speakers.
Alongside websites that are aimed at advanced French learners, you can also use native French websites for learning French. These include blogs in French, news websites and forums or message boards. These websites are great for sentence mining and seeing advanced French safely “in the wild.”
Advanced French Books
In the “Read Widely” tip, we talked about the importance of reading anything and everything for improving advanced French.
Looking at this advice deeper, we see that there are two categories of advanced French books.
The first are those that aim to teach C1 or C2 French to learners. These are advanced French textbooks with new vocabulary, grammar explanations and exercises. These exercises can be short- and long-form, and they allow advanced French learners an opportunity to practice their new skills.
The second category is simply native French fiction or non-fiction books. Because they’re for native French speakers, these advanced French books are written in French for French adults are typically at the advanced level of French. They span many topics and genres, and you can even find books in French that have been translated from other languages.
For advanced French learners, aim to read a native French book “for pleasure” alongside a French textbook. Working through a French textbook while also reading a French book for pleasure helps to grow new vocabulary and reinforce advanced French when seen “in the wild” of native French books.
Advanced French Lessons
Like textbooks, advanced French lessons teach the vocabulary and grammar skills needed to excel at the advanced levels of French.
Some advanced French lessons online or in-person focus on specific topics such as Business or Medical French. Some lessons are actually advanced French classes that arm learners with advanced vocabulary and grammar structures.
You can even find courses for advanced French speaking or writing. These advanced French courses give learners the skills they need to speak or write French at the level to excel at the workplace, at an academic institution or during an advanced French level test.
Advanced French Videos
Like advanced French books, advanced French videos are in two categories.
The first are lesson-style videos that teach C1 or C2 French. These are often focused on explanations of vocabulary topics or grammar structures. There are also lecture-style videos that give techniques for excelling at advanced French speaking, listening, reading or writing.
The second category is native French videos. These span many domains and topics, from news to documentaries to viral videos on social media websites. As an advanced French learner, you should aim to watch native French videos such as movies, TV shows and vlogs to grow new vocabulary and see advanced French as it’s used by advanced French speakers.
Additionally, there are also videos available on YouTube that show the oral test portion of the Diplôme Approfondi de Langue Française (Diploma in Advanced French Language) or DALF C1 and C2 tests. These tests allow learners to prove that they have a high level of mastery in French and are commonly needed for job or school application in French-speaking places. These videos could be helpful for prospective test takers who want to see what the DALF C1 and C2 test is like and get some practice of their own.
So it turns out that climbing “Mount Fluency” might not be such a lofty goal after all. With these tips and the right resources, you can climb your way to advanced French mastery!
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