How to Improve French Speaking in 5 Steps and Start Shining in French Conversations!
If you’re one of many learners struggling with spoken French, you might wonder what the issue is exactly.
The explanation is most likely the simplest one: your French courses or self-study programs just aren’t enough.
You need to work smarter, not harder.
Just follow these five practical, powerful steps for how to improve at French and come out from hiding once and for all.
- Why Aren’t Courses Enough to Improve French Speaking?
- How to Take Control of Your French Speaking Experience
- 5 Easy Steps to Improve French Speaking
- And one more thing...
Why Aren’t Courses Enough to Improve French Speaking?
Whether you’re taking a French class that meets a couple times a week or you’ve decided to plunge into learning French on your own, you may find that your skills lack in one key area. French courses and self-study programs are excellent to help you read, write and listen to the language, but often, they skimp out on speaking. Formal classes and large lecture halls don’t allow for much spontaneous conversation, and self-guided immersion software doesn’t always, either.
The problem? Learning French is all about learning how to speak spontaneously. No potential conversation partner on the streets of Paris, Brussels or Nice is going to stick around while you recite stock answers and flip through your pocket phrasebook.
How to Take Control of Your French Speaking Experience
Incorporate spoken French into everyday life
Improving your oral French skills is important, nay, crucial to your development as a French speaker. Without much opportunity for spontaneous speech in courses, learners should aim to engage in as much unplanned speech as possible and incorporate oral French into everyday life.
Below, we’ll give you plenty of ideas for how to improve French speaking this way.
Assess your level
It’s hard to improve French if you don’t even know what needs to improve! Before you get started, identify where you French speaking and language skills are currently at. You can assess your French speaking skills through services online.
- Berlitz offers phone interviews and other online assessments for your French language skills.
- The BBC has online activities you can use to test your oral French.
Engage in as much spontaneous French conversation as possible
Learning French is like practicing for a marathon. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to run in the marathon that’s taking place that morning. You need to train. You need to put in time. You need to fail and learn from your mistakes.
The same is true for spoken French. You won’t excel if you refuse to speak. You need to put yourself out there and practice, even if it means you make mistakes.
Strive to overcome your anxiety as you improve French
Believe it or not, anxiety beats competence in the rock-paper-scissors of language learning any day. The more nervous you are, the less likely the words you know will make it out of your mouth and into beautifully-constructed French conversation. The only way to overcome nervousness as you try to improve French is to practice!
Remember that marathon we spoke about? Yeah, get running… er, speaking.
5 Easy Steps to Improve French Speaking
Here are some simple methods for anyone wondering how to get better at French speaking. Warm up those vocal cords and prepare to speak!
1. Talk to Yourself in French
This may be an awkward suggestion, but you need to talk to yourself. Right now. The best way to prepare for spontaneous French conversation is to role play potential scenarios.
Talk to yourself in French as you cook dinner. Describe what you’re making, what you like about it or how you may have just added a tad too much butter to your hollandaise sauce.
Better yet, say all your actions using French verbs out loud. Talk about the shirt you’re putting on, the article you just read from that French magazine and why you’re excited for the weekend. These conversations with yourself can happen anywhere: in the shower, in your car during your commute, alone in your bedroom. The more in-depth the conversation is, the better.
By talking to yourself, you not only improve French responses to questions and topics that will arise in casual, everyday French, but you do so in a safe, pressure-free environment. There’s no one around to hear your mistakes, and you’ll be surprised how the lack of anxiety allows you to speak more naturally and build your confidence.
And hey, if you’re extra daring, talk to yourself with others around. Just ignore the sideways glances.
2. Listen to and Summarize French Audio
It goes without saying that listening skills and speaking skills go hand-in-hand. The art of conversation not only requires grammatically correct sentences, but it also requires speakers to listen to one another and digest important information to keep the dialogue going. So one of the ways to improve French speaking is to practice the process of listening, understanding and then speaking.
Step one: Find something to listen to. Throw on a good French movie or watch short videos online through websites like Canal+. If you’re more into watching the news, Le 13 Heures (1 o’clock p.m.) is a daily, one-hour French news program on TF1, and every day a new episode is uploaded to their website.
If you’re more into radio, there are a number of stations you can listen to online, but if you’re baffled by speech faster than a TGV high-speed train, you can always check out News in Slow French for reports that have been slowed down for language learners.
Step two: After you’ve watched or listened, summarize what you heard out loud. Write down key words the movie or program used, and incorporate them in your summary. Doing so allows you to internalize new vocabulary and speak about a range of topics that you previously knew little about. This helps to build your spoken French skills.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
3. Watch French Game Shows
Let’s face it: We all love watching game shows. The best part is hurling our answers at the screen, and chiding actual participants who get questions wrong. Try watching a French game show and see if you can beat the participants. The faster you understand what the question is asking and answer (maybe not even correctly), the faster you will improve French listening comprehension and consequently, spontaneous speaking.
Some good trivia shows include “Tout le monde veut prendre sa place” (which translates as “everyone wants to take their place”) and “Qui veut gagner des millions?,” the French equivalent of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
4. Read French Out Loud and Use Audiobooks
If by this point you haven’t started reading French books, get on it! Reading is a great way to tackle the wilderness of spontaneous, real-world French instead of the safe stock phrases that textbooks want you to memorize and regurgitate.
Better yet, faites d’une pierre deux coups (kill two birds with one stone). Once you’ve selected that delicious French page-turner, read it out loud as you go. This allows learners to get a feel for how French speakers actually compose sentences, especially dialogue. Further, you will become more comfortable with common sentence structures, and you’ll find you’re better able to replicate these structures in actual spontaneous speech.
In fact, while you’re at it, download the audiobook of the French novel you’re reading. Inkstone Software has thousands of free audiobooks on their Audiobooks HQ app, and the iTunes store has a wealth of French audiobooks, too. You can read aloud alongside the audiobook to fine tune your pronunciation and intonation, and this will help you to become fluent in the rhythm of the French language.
5. Stop Being such a Lone Wolf! Improve French with a Language Partner
Despite the aforementioned methods, all the audiobooks, all the babbling in the shower and all the French radio stations in the world won’t compare to actual spontaneous conversation. So get out there, grasshopper: Get a language partner.
Finding one online is a good option as it allows the both of you to converse remotely over Skype or other software. You can try apps like HelloTalk for informal voice chats with other language learners and native French speakers. However, you ideally want to find someone in your area who is also learning French.
Such people can be found through sites like ConversationExchange.com or simply by asking around your group of friends or French course peers. But it wouldn’t hurt to join a French conversation group or frequent any available French-oriented establishments like cafés, restaurants and bookstores.
Once you’ve found someone, secure two to three days a week to meet up and speak French. Get creative and talk about some pre-planned topics. You can discuss books, movies and the news, and once you get comfortable with your partner, feel free to have debates and discuss more juicy subjects like abstract art or politics. (But don’t be offensive. You want to keep your language buddy around, remember?)
If you’re feeling extra spontaneous, plan a field trip with your language buddy. Go to events where they speak French actively such as Francophone meet-and-greets, conventions and luncheons. These are often put on by French language organizations or universities, and such events will allow you and your buddy to use that French you’ve been practicing in the real world.
Remember: Even though spoken French is the most intimidating of the competencies, it’s where you really get to show off what you’ve learned!
So don’t hide behind your textbooks and grammar exercises.
Now that you know exactly how to improve French speaking, get out there and show ’em what an awesome French learner you are!
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.)