Does French Have to Be Hard? 4 Practical Study Tricks That Make It Easy from the Start
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Was Martin Luther King Jr. talking about French learning when he said this?
No, but he might as well have been.
French learning doesn’t have to be a winding, scary, difficult journey.
Take it one step at a time, with the right study methods guiding you, and suddenly fluency doesn’t seem so far away.
This French-made-easy guide will give you four surefire ways to do just that.
Keep Calm and Learn French: 4 Ways to Make French Learning Fun and Easy!
1. Adopt Positive Affirmations
One of the biggest problems for someone just starting to learn French is paralysis by analysis. There’s so much information to learn and so many methods on how to learn it! So rather than diving in, we tend to freeze up and look at fluency as an impossible task.
Don’t let yourself fall into this trap.
All around the world, there are over 220 million French speakers, which means learning the language is anything but impossible! Sure, many of those speakers have had the advantage of learning French from birth, but they still had to learn. Think about it. Even babies who are constantly surrounded by people trying to help them pronounce words and learn vocabulary still need over a year to start speaking, over two years to create small sentences, and over three years to develop conversational skills.
So give yourself a break and take the pressure off. This will change your attitude—and in fact, research shows that a positive attitude is one of the most important factors in long-term foreign language learning success.
So, start with this:
Recite positive affirmations (yes, out loud!) about your ability to learn French, such as “Je peux y arriver!” (“I can do it!”) or “Je suis capable!” (Literally, “I am able!”)
You can do this right before you sit down for a French study session, after finishing a task in French or simply when you wake up every morning.
Second, you want to get to a point where you really, truly believe that tu es capable (you can do it). So be sure to adapt your affirmations as you go. Celebrate the things you’ve already learned—name them one-by-one out loud, whether it’s specific grammar topics, a category of vocabulary or a difficult-to-pronounce sound that you’ve finally mastered.
We’re often so focused on how far we have to go that we forget how far we’ve already come. I know, I know… it sounds cheesy, right? But it’s totally true! It’s a technique used everywhere from traditional classrooms to corporate offices to build a positive, success-driven environment. And since it only takes a few minutes at most every day, it’s a small thing that can have a huge impact on making French learning easier over the long-term.
2. Categorize Vocabulary and Verbs
If you’ve ever spent time studying French textbooks, you’ve probably noticed that they’re broken down into categories like sports, household, transportation, etc. The reason is that we learn really well when things are categorized into themes.
So why not imitate this structure across all your French studies? Even if you feel like you’re allergic to textbook learning, you can still reap the benefits of organized learning.
Try making flashcard vocabulary sets by theme rather than by “top 100 words” lists. Think of a broad category at first and then break it down into sub-categories. A good way to do this is to write your broad theme in the center of the page and think of all the related ideas around it (like a mind map!).
For example, you could write “food” in the middle of your blank page. Connected to “food” you could have fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, spices, restaurants, cutlery and anything else you can think of. Building your list from these sub-categories will give you much more focused and effective flashcard sets than you would’ve built from the broader topic “food.”
And you don’t have to just focus on nouns, of course! Organize verb cards by theme, too. Your themes can be related words, similar to the above, like “to cook,” “to boil,” “to bake,” etc. But you’ll likely also want to group verbs with similar conjugation patterns, such as regular -ir verbs.
By building your vocabulary and verb lists on categories, you’ll be sure to learn much more efficiently. Plus, breaking flashcard sets down by topic makes learning French more approachable than just rote memorization.
3. Set a Study Timer
Musicians know this best. When I first started to play guitar, my teacher told me: pick up the guitar for five minutes in the morning, five minutes in the afternoon and five minutes before bed. Anything longer would just exhaust me and leave me discouraged.
After one month of doing this, what do you think happened? As I progressed, the five minutes naturally turned into 10 minutes, then 15 and even 20 until I was starting to sit down for hours at a time.
It’s the same with French. The more you progress in small, manageable study sessions, you won’t burn out and your practice will naturally get longer and longer.
So how does this work? Maybe you already know about the Pomodoro Technique of working in 25-minute spurts. Why not do a mini version? Try 10 minutes, three times a day. Focus on vocabulary for 10 minutes in the morning, verbs for 10 minutes in the afternoon and pronunciation for another 10 minutes before bed. It’s easy to find a spare 10 minutes throughout the day when we’re intentional about it!
Look, learning French is a marathon, not a sprint. Even the most motivated students can hit a wall sometimes. It’s just the unfortunate reality of learning any new skill, especially languages. By scaling your study habits down to bite-sized chunks, you’ll keep your motivation high, progress naturally and get excited to keep going.
Also, you’ll likely keep your attitude in the right place which, as mentioned above, will be a huge benefit on your road to fluency!
4. Make French a Part of Your Daily Life
Have you ever heard of incidental exercise? It’s when you incorporate exercise into your daily life, like standing at your desk or parking at the farthest space in the lot for a longer walk.
You can do the same to make French learning easy!
Try little adjustments in your daily life to push yourself. For example, you could choose something in French for your next Netflix binge or keep a French book by your nightstand for 20 minutes of reading before bed.
Do you check your phone a lot throughout your day? Put the phone’s language settings in French (just make sure you memorize how to change them back in case of emergency!).
If you enjoy immersive learning and want to pursue a more analog style, using sticky notes around your house to build vocabulary will keep French learning on your mind throughout the day. This, in turn, will totally help you stay motivated when French feels overwhelming.
One last thing that I like to do to remind myself why I am learning French is to plan an imaginary trip, even if I can’t buy the tickets yet! I just spend five minutes a day or so thinking about where I’d like to visit, who I’d like to meet and what I’d like to learn. This inspires me on days when I’m feeling like learning French has become difficult and tedious.
Imagining myself at a café in Paris speaking with old friends reminds me that French doesn’t have to be hard… in fact, it should be fun!
Incorporating these small but meaningful changes into your life is a lot easier than finding whole chunks of extra time in your schedule for French practice. It can also make your entire day feel more productive and rewarding!
If you take away just one idea from this article, make it this: your attitude will have a huge impact on your success in learning French! The journey to fluency can seem long, I know, but it doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it should be the opposite. So remember to use these four tips to French made easy and you’ll be saying “Le français? C’est trop facile!” (“French? That’s so easy!”) in no time!