You speak like a French native.
Read faster than light. French light, of course.
You even have flawless French listening comprehension skills.
Your vocabulary is on fleek, and your grammar, simply awesome.
You write like… Wait, you don’t write?
Mon Dieu, how’s that possible?
You’ve come to the right place, then. Come and have a seat, ’cause we’re learning how to master French writing today.
Pick a pencil. Have a piece of paper.
Bonne rédaction! (Happy writing!)
How to Improve French Writing Skills
You could read a hundred pages on how to write in French and still have no clue about how to start.
Writing in French can be challenging, I know. Written French looks nothing like its spoken brother but, unfortunately, it’s a necessary skill.
So, how can you improve your French writing skills?
How can you make it become a fun, easy and enjoyable activity?
One answer is FluentU.
FluentU is the best tool you can use to improve your French writing.
Every single one of the videos included in the platform has a set of contextual subtitles. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, just hover your mouse over it or tap it and you’ll get a translation in context. You can use that info to create a list of words you don’t know and to learn how to spell them correctly (which will come in handy when you use these new words in writing).
To know more about this cute little animal in French, click on the word écureuil and an interactive flashcard will pop up. The flashcard will teach you how to pronounce the word (which will help you recognize it during dictations, for example) and it’ll also give you grammar info, a translation, whole sample sentences with pronunciation and a list of videos where your word appears. Use the sample sentences as a guide and write more sentences with this or other words.
After this, you can keep on practicing your writing by doing quizzes and exercises. Remember to write down any additional words or sentences that catch your eye. You never know when you’re going to have to use them in your writing assignments!
And if you get tired of squirrels and want to try writing about any other topic, just use the video dictionary feature. This amazing dictionary will give you all the flashcards and videos related to the word or topic you search for. Use them to write even more sample sentences, to do some creative writing or for any other writing activity you can think of.
Here’s an example of the results you get when you search for the irregular verb sortir (to go out, to leave):
Start boosting your French writing skills with FluentU today. Give it a free try now and you’ll be sold.
But apart from joining FluentU, there are some other tips and tricks you can use to improve your written French, namely:
- Master the French alphabet if you haven’t yet. Knowing how to spell French words can be hard. You should master the alphabet before you start writing words and, later on, sentences and paragraphs.
- Watch out for accent marks. French accent marks make French spelling even harder. You need to know your enemy before you go to war.
- Study French punctuation rules. French punctuation is essential if you want to write correctly in French. Learn the main rules so you can put them to good use.
- Learn sentence structure. Sentence structure and word order will allow you to write your first simple sentences in French. Don’t skip them!
- Make use of conjunctions and transition words. They’ll help you build longer, more complex, grammatically correct sentences, which is what we’re here for, aren’t we?
- Learn vocabulary and grammar. French grammar and French vocabulary are at the core of any type of writing. You wouldn’t be able to write anything if you didn’t know words (vocabulary) or what to do with them (grammar rules).
- Read in French, a lot. Practicing French reading often will provide you with hundreds of examples of correct written French. Reading is one of the most powerful tools you have to improve your writing skills. Read as if your life depends on it.
- Write something every day. They say practice makes perfect, and this is totally true when it comes to writing in French. Try to write something in French every day. It can be a couple of sentences, a grocery shopping list or a journal entry. Write about anything you want, but do it daily.
- Get feedback. Find a native French speaker who can read what you write and give you detailed feedback. The ideal scenario here would involve you and an English language learner. You can both read and give feedback to each other, so everybody wins.
- Work on your mistakes. Analyze the feedback you get and study your mistakes. Find the origin of the problem and work on it until you master it.
- Be patient. You can’t be the next Victor Hugo in three months. Be patient, write a lot and get better at it slowly but steadily. Writing in French doesn’t allow you to use shortcuts, but the final reward is totally worth it.
How to Write in French
There are some areas of French writing you should master before jumping into more advanced topics, and that’s what the previous section was for.
Once you’re comfortable with simple sentences and basic writing in general, you’ll have to get ready to start practicing some not-so-basic types of writing.
Here you have some ideas you can start with.
Write letters in French
French is the perfect language to practice the forgotten art of writing letters.
Informal letters to friends and family have been replaced by text messages and emails. However, there are still situations in which writing a formal letter in French is an asset that’ll allow you to stand out from the crowd.
Write emails in French
The majority of our everyday communication online is in the form of emails.
Learning how to write an email in French is a must if you’re working in a French-speaking environment or you need to contact someone who doesn’t speak English.
Writing emails in French will add a lot of new vocabulary to your word bank and will allow you to have direct contact with the language as it’s written by natives.
Write your CV in French
If you’re learning how to improve your French writing skills, chances are you need this language to get a job.
If that’s the case, then you’ll probably have to write your CV in French in order for you to apply.
Writing a CV in French isn’t a question of just translating your English resume into French.
French CVs have a very rigid structure and can look quite different from English ones, so I recommend you start practicing this area as soon as you can.
Write essays in French
You’re still struggling to write a short email and I’m already talking about how to write an essay in French.
Maybe you don’t need to write an essay, but there are many other French learners who have taken the plunge and started studying French at university, whether in their home country or abroad.
For them, writing essays will be something they’ll have to do on a daily basis, and the sooner they learn the necessary vocabulary and the structure of French essays, the better.
Write poems in French
If you don’t know how to write a poem in French, don’t panic.
You’ll normally write poems in French as part of your creative writing activities, while journaling or maybe once in a blue moon as part of your homework.
Writing a poem in French can be a daunting task for beginners, but you shouldn’t get stressed.
Poetry is free, wild and personal, so as long as you use the right spelling, (almost) anything goes.
If you’re really determined to become a poet, though, my best piece of advice is that you follow the masters, so start reading French poetry as often as you can.
How to Master Typing in French
Nowadays, writing in French often means typing and texting in French.
Unfortunately, typing in French can become a little bit messy with all those accent marks, guillemets (the French quotation marks) and whatnot, so you’ll probably have to learn how to type… yet again.
There are a couple of things you should bear in mind if you want to master typing in French.
Allons jeter un œil! (Let’s have a look!)
The French keyboard
The first thing you’ll notice when you look at a French keyboard is that some letters and symbols aren’t where you’d expect them to be.
The French keyboard has a layout that is commonly called AZERTY (used predominantly in France).
It’s important that you get as much French typing practice as you can until you really know where each letter and symbol is situated. This’ll allow you to type faster as you progress.
How to type French accents
Accents are super important because they can change the meaning and pronunciation of a word in the blink of an eye.
You’ll need to get used to typing French accent marks whenever necessary, no excuses accepted.
If you get yourself a French keyboard, typing accent marks will be pretty straightforward: most of the time, all you’ll have to do is type the accent mark and then type the letter it goes over.
However, the majority of us will have to configure our current keyboard so that it types like a French one.
If that’s your case, you’ll probably have to use the ALT key (Windows)/Option key (MAC) plus a specific letter, or ALT plus a numeric code (Windows).
How to text in French
Learning how to text in French is a skill for the brave of heart…
Even if you decide to text whole words and grammatically perfect sentences, the truth is that, sooner or later, you’ll come across something like Oui tkt biz and start crying internally.
That means “Yeah no worries xx,” by the way.
Texting in French requires you to learn a ton of fun abbreviations and practice till you forget everything you’ve learned about French writing so far.
But hey, at least you’ll be understood via txt msg.
How to Practice French Writing
There are as many ways of practicing French writing as there are learners of French.
But, let’s be honest, there are better ways and “less better” ways.
The following is a short list of activities you can add to your learning sessions to practice and improve your French writing.
You can use one of them, half of them or all of them. The choice is yours.
Dictations are a great way to practice spelling, punctuation and listening comprehension. Do them often and your writing skills will jump through the roof.
Practice creative writing
It doesn’t matter if you write the next super best-seller French ghost story or a cute little poem, creative writing will help you overcome any writing block you might have, plus it’ll improve your vocab and grammar skills overall if you take it seriously.
Journaling doesn’t only let you know yourself and understand your feelings, it’s also an activity that’ll give you a safe space where your French writing skills won’t be judged.
Use journaling to get your daily French writing practice, even if you only write a couple of lines. Make journaling a habit and you’ll see how much more confident you’ll feel when you have to write about topics that aren’t related to your personal life.
Use writing apps
Having a French writing app on your smartphone is very useful because you can have access to it wherever you are. If you listen to an expression you don’t know, or you get inspired by a beautiful sunset, you can always take your phone out and start typing.
Get hold of a French spellchecker
Use a spellchecker when you type in order to spot your spelling and grammar mistakes easily. Use your mistakes as feedback and work on them so that you don’t make them again.
Use your social media for daily French writing practice
Comment on French groups on Facebook, publish a new pic on Instagram with a short description in French, twit your life away on Twitter… There are so many ways in which you can engage in social interactions online. When you do it, try to do it in French.
Translate your favorite songs into English and vice versa
Start by translating the lyrics of your favorite French songs into English.
You can do this by just listening to the song, pausing after each verse and writing the translation, or by printing the French lyrics and writing the translation alongside.
Once you feel you’ve gotten the gist of it, translate the lyrics of your favorite English songs into French. This’ll be quite challenging at the beginning, but you’ll get better and better as you practice more.
Create your own flashcards
Flashcards are a superb way of learning a new language, and they can become an awesome writing exercise if, instead of just writing a word with its translation, you write a whole sentence with its translation.
Flashcards can also be used to write down words that are difficult to spell, conjugations you’re having trouble with, homophones, false friends, phrasal verbs, etc. The sky is the limit, just do it in French.
And remember that you can always use FluentU’s amazing interactive flashcards if you don’t have the time to create your own!
Writing in French doesn’t have to be difficult or boring if you know where to put your attention.
You’ll need to master a few basic French rules before you start writing words that’ll become phrases, sentences and, eventually, whole paragraphs with time and practice.
Remember to practice writing as often as you can, in as many ways as you can, and you’ll be writing the next “Madame Bovary” before you even realize it.
Stay curious, my friends, and as always, happy writing!
Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He’s a proud language nerd, and you’ll normally find him learning languages, teaching students or reading. He’s been writing for FluentU for many years and is one of their staff writers.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.