French Refresher Course: 9 Simple Ways to Revive Your French
Took French classes several years ago?
If you want to remember your hard-earned knowledge of French grammar and hilarious colloquialisms, prioritize practice.
I’m not saying it’s not important to take classes (it is), but you need to practice almost every day in order to remember what you’ve learned and improve upon that.
In this post, I’ll show you nine ways you can revive your French and make it a fun, regular part of your daily life!
- Why Refresh if You’ve Already Taken Classes?
- How to Refresh Your French
- Extra Tips for Refreshing Your French
- And one more thing...
Why Refresh if You’ve Already Taken Classes?
- Classes can’t replace practice. Someone might wonder how many classes they must take before further practice is no longer needed to retain what they’ve learned. However, no amount of classes or coursework will hardwire your brain to understand a foreign language. It’s all a question of time and dedication.
- Daily practice doesn’t need to be difficult. Practicing every day might sound daunting, but you don’t have to work as hard as you worked in class. Practicing can be as simple as watching French videos on YouTube or keeping a journal. The key is to practice by doing something that’s fun.
- Maintain now, improve later. You should aim to preserve what you’ve already learned. This will make it easier to deepen your knowledge of French as time permits.
However, you can still learn something new each day in as little as a few minutes. For example, I find time to read in French every day. More often than not, I’ll stumble on an unknown word which I’ll subsequently look up and commit to memory. If you do this daily, there won’t be many common words you don’t understand!
- Partners might not be available. In class, you were expected to speak French regularly. Since you may now live somewhere where other francophones are rare, it’s all the more important to practice independently.
How to Refresh Your French
Understanding the importance of practicing your French is great, but what if life gets in the way? What if you don’t have time to practice? Trust me, I’ve been there. So here are a few methods I use to create my own French refresher course when retreating into an immersive cocoon is not possible:
1. Listen to French Audiobooks
Does your office not object to headphones if your work’s getting done? Why not listen to audiobooks?
Even if you don’t understand every word that’s being said, it still trains your brain to recognize key sounds. Just make sure you don’t unconsciously sprinkle foreign words into your memos! If you work on your feet, all the better. Simply load the books onto your phone and you’re off and running! Many sites offer free public domain audiobooks.
2. Think in French
This is a little trick I use when no other practice methods are available. For example, your workplace may have a strict no headphones policy. In that case, try pretending that French is your native language. Think in French and translate those thoughts into written or spoken English when work “gets in the way.”
3. Change Language Settings to French on Commonly Used Apps or Devices
Spend a lot of time using a word processor or a computer? There’s no reason why you can’t change their language settings. You’ll learn common phrases and have a constant reminder of your linguistic goals, plus you’ll learn a few new technical words!
4. Read the News in French
As well as changing the language settings on apps or devices, another great way to refresh your French is by reading the news in French.
Not only will this help you stay up-to-date with what’s going on in the world, but you’ll also get to see how the language is used in context.
There are plenty of resources available for you to choose from. Click here to see some of them!
5. Write in French
Do you often find yourself writing notes on paper or on your cell phone? Maybe you write a to-do list, or perhaps you jot down your shopping list.
Whatever you write down, why not write it in French?
This is a simple way to start incorporating French into your daily life and will help you cover key vocabulary as well as identify any gaps in your French to study later on.
6. Departmental Transfer in Workplace
If you work for a large company there might be another department that communicates with French speakers regularly.
You may be able to get paid while gaining language experience in a fast-paced, real-world setting. Who knows? Your French language knowledge might be rare in-house, so it’s worth a shot.
7. Stream French Television
Several TV channels from French-speaking countries stream their broadcasts online. Much like with audiobooks, you can listen passively at work or at home to gain insight into that francophone country’s culture as well as pick up new vocabulary.
If you’re interested in watching shorter clips with extra language learning support, you could also try using FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
8. Use Flashcards to Study Vocabulary
Flashcards are useful for studying vocabulary. I often make flashcards with a French word and its English translation on the other side. You could even take things a step farther and put the French definition on the other side. Thumb through a few of these during your free time and you’ll be on your way to developing an impressive vocabulary!
There are also plenty of flashcard apps that you can use to study wherever you are!
9. Practice Avoiding the “Um”
Case in point, I once took a class where students delivered presentations (in French) about a semester abroad, an internship abroad, etc. More often than not, they still couldn’t string together more than two coherent sentences without resorting to the ubiquitous “um,” despite having spent a year in so-called immersion.
Now, stage fright is a problem for a lot of us, but their choppy speech tells me that they didn’t take advantage of their surroundings and practice. Granted, it’s possible that their French friends wanted to practice English as much as my classmates wanted to practice French, so they may have been tempted to “revert” to English.
That being said, you must always soldier on, practicing French speaking without stopping, hesitating or doubting. Just keep talking until your streams of spoken French become totally fluent.
Extra Tips for Refreshing Your French
- Even immersion takes effort. If you live in a country where French is spoken, you don’t need to set aside a few minutes per day to maintain your linguistic skills, but you still need to practice by speaking.
- Keep using the language. Even kids forget languages they don’t use! I once knew someone who had this happen to him. He (a native English speaker) grew up in a house where French was spoken. Originally his immigrant parents only spoke English at home but, when he was about 10, they tried to immerse him in French by “banning” English.
That means he spent eight years at home plus another four years in college practicing French. 12 years! However, after college he ceased practicing. Now, decades later, he has forgotten almost everything. Grammar, listening comprehension, all gone!
Given his exposure early in life, had he practiced a little bit each day after leaving college, he could have taught French today. So if a child, intensely exposed to a language from a very young age, can forget an unused language, so can an adult!
- Don’t give up! Like learning to ride a bike, learning the basics of French is straightforward.
- The retention obstacle. Unlike riding a bike, however, you can forget what you’ve learned if you don’t practice. Perhaps retention is the hardest aspect of learning a language. You already cram your head with new knowledge every day just by living, so how can you expect to remember a language?
- Challenge yourself. You might get frustrated and be tempted to give up practice, telling yourself: “I can’t practice on my own!” or “I’m just too busy!” But it’s the frustration that lets you know you’re making progress.
- You’ll improve with consistent, daily practice. Even if you only practice a little bit each day, you’ll make progress. Over the years your skills will accrue. This may happen imperceptibly in the short term, but one day you’ll realize just how much you’ve learned.
The key to each of the above strategies is to never miss an opportunity to practice French.
It’s easy enough—just fill your spare moments with French and create your own French refresher course!
You’ll start improving without even realizing that you’ve been studying!
And one more thing...
If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally personalized experience. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)