How to Become Fluent in French: A Simple 5-Step Training Program

Want to become fluent in French?

Consider me your French personal trainer. I’m here to tell you that the key to French fluency lies in your favorite workout plan.

The same routine you use to kick your butt into shape can be adapted to thoroughly exercise your French language skills.

Even if you aren’t a gym rat, you’ll soon see how repetition, persistence and consistency all factor into French fluency. 

Unfortunately, eating copious amounts of delicious French cuisine will only help you so far. You might have the food lingo down, and know how to order cocktails while you’re out enjoying Parisian nightlife, but now it’s time to strive for a full, rich French vocabulary and impeccable grammar. Don’t worry that this will be too much work – there are plenty of fun methods of learning French out there that can be incorporated into the plan presented here.

All the principles of an effective workout translate directly to language skill training and memory muscle strengthening.  Switching your brain into gear with French means that your brain will be, overall, fitter than ever. Fire up those neurons, eat some brain food and prepare yourself for a serious workout sesh. By following our five easy steps, you’ll be in perfect French shape in no time.


How to Become Fluent in French in 5 Easy Steps

1. Exercise Your Four French Muscle Groups

In the same way that you exercise different muscle groups to ensure that all parts of your body get stronger, so should you be sure to pay close attention to your four French “muscle groups.” Language learning can be divided into at least four main sections: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression and reading comprehension. Some also include a fifth category encompassing culture. If you’ve ever traveled to France, then you’ll understand exactly how important it is to know about culture, customs and etiquette.

When you are working on your French, be sure to exercise each of these muscle groups equally. Join a French conversation group to practice speaking. Listen to French podcasts to give your ears a workout. Write in French and be sure to get your writing corrected by a native French speaker, like a French teacher or French language exchange partner. And read French books or do reading comprehension exercises in French to make sure that you understand the words on the page. Divide your time as best you can to make sure that all portions of your French learning experience are getting an adequate workout.

2. Sprints: Daily French Vocabulary Exercises

You need to make studying French a habit that sticks. Even if you’re totally out of time, reserve a few minutes each day to devote to French. Anyway, short study time does not equate to ineffective study time. Sometimes the best way to sneak in a quick workout is to push yourself as hard as you can go for a short period of time. This is especially useful on days when you don’t have hours to devote to your French studies. Just a few minutes is all you need to make sure that you get in some useful French study each and every day, and vocab “sprints” are a great way to do it.

How do you go about doing a French vocab sprint? Just as you’ll find many cardio machines at the gym, there are many ways to go about it.

Try using flashcards to memorize vocabulary words quickly and easily nearly everywhere. Make your own flashcards or buy themed packs of flashcards from a bookstore or specialized website.

When you’re at home, use a simple piece of paper for your sprints. Fold it into three columns, and write the French words on one side. Open the column and write the English words on the next side. Fold it so that the French is hidden, and write the French equivalents on the next column. Be sure to check your work as you go!

If you have a “gym buddy” working towards French fluency with you, you can do many of these games with a friend. Try racing to see how many words you can each come up with in a given category, or play a version of Boggle by trying to make as many words as possible with a given number of random letters.

3. Slow and Steady Wins the French Fluency Race

While sprints can be useful for quick memorization, don’t forget the power of the long-distance run. Set small goals for yourself every few weeks or months. Some goals may be to finish a book or watch a French movie without subtitles. Do something small every day to help achieve your goal.

If your goal is to finish a French book, find out how many pages you need to read each day before your goal day, and commit to reading them. If your goal is to watch a movie in French without subtitles, start by watching movies with English subtitles, then French subtitles. Commit to watching a movie or two every week.

If you’re working on your reading comprehension, read a newspaper article in French every day. For listening comprehension, listen to a podcast or some French language tunes during your morning commute. Small steps and changes in your habits are the best way to lead to big results.

4. Change Up Your Routine: Add New French Activities to Your Daily Life

At the gym, most professionals suggest switching up your routine a few times a month or after every several workouts to keep your body guessing. Otherwise, you get too used to what you’re doing and it doesn’t have the same effect as it did at the very beginning.

The same is true of French. If you start by reading an article on a French website every day, the first day may be hard, but every day after that gets easier. So step it up a notch! If you started with Yahoo France, change to Le Monde after a few weeks to give your brain a bit of a shock. If you’ve been listening to the same French podcast for a few weeks, choose a new one which will give you a new voice and accent to get used to. Once you’ve been meeting with the same French conversation partner for a while, consider finding another one – or, at the very least, change up the meeting place for your conversations so that new vocabulary words become necessary. For example, visit a museum with him or her and discuss art in French. Little changes to your routine are the best way to make sure that you keep learning new things as time goes on.

5. Go the Distance: Travel to a French-Speaking Country

In order to become fully fluent, sooner or later, you’re going to have to get your feet wet… that is, by jumping the Atlantic. One of the best ways to become fully fluent in another language is to live in a country that speaks it. If you’re serious about French fluency, consider a long trip to French-speaking Canada or to France.

Depending on what your lifestyle allows, you may wish to spend from a few weeks to a few months in a foreign country. When opting for a shorter route, choose a trip that will allow you to make the most of your time in a foreign country. Many programs, particularly in France, allow learners to sign up for intensive language courses lasting around three hours per day. After the course is over for the day, you have the choice of exploring the new city on your own or signing up for another class, perhaps a more specialized one, in the target language. Consider learning to paint, cook or knit alongside locals. Not only will this increase your vocabulary, but you’ll meet new people with whom you can share your thoughts in French.

If you decide to opt for a longer trip, you will be able to see what it is really like to live in another country and another language. Many expatriates find it easy to find a group of fellow expatriates to spend time with, but you should try to avoid falling into this trap. Spend time with as many native French speakers as you can to get the most out of your stay and make your French language training truly go the distance.


And One More Thing…

If you want to reach French fluency faster, then you’ve got to try FluentU.

FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks. Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken in modern life.

One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:

2014 10 09 20.42.25 9 Great Channels to Learn French on YouTube

Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions will guide you along the way, so you’ll never miss a word.

2014 10 09 20.44.00 9 Great Channels to Learn French on YouTube

Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:

2014 10 09 20.44.51 9 Great Channels to Learn French on YouTube

Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”

2014 10 09 20.45.27 9 Great Channels to Learn French on YouTube

As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience. Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.

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