There’s no need to hide!
We can show you how to improve your French speaking so you’ll want to get out there and chat it up.
No more anxiety at the thought of speaking to an actual French person!
Do you find that French courses and programs are good at helping you understand grammar and vocabulary but neglect to help you actually speak French?
If you’re one of many learners struggling with spoken French, you might wonder what you’re doing wrong.
You might feel like the trouble you’re having is all your fault, or assume you’re just not any good at languages.
But have you really thought about why you might be struggling?
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.
So just follow these five practical, powerful steps for how to get better at French and come out from hiding once and for all.
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 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.
If you’re interested in getting a head start to improve your French speaking, FluentU is designed to get you comfortable with everyday French, by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with easy-to-read subtitles.
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.
Assess your level
Before you get started, it’s useful to know what level you’re at. You can assess your speaking skills through services online.
- BULATS (Business Language Testing Service) offers a short online speaking test that includes an interview, presentation and communication activities. Responses are recorded and then assessed to determine speaking levels.
- Berlitz offers an option that’s a little less formal: a 20 minute interview over the phone.
- The BBC has online activities you can use to test your oral French.
Engage in as much spontaneous 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
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 when learning a language is to practice! Remember that marathon we spoke about? Yeah, get running… er, speaking.
Check out these methods to make spoken French part of your daily activities.
Don’t Fear French Conversation Anymore! How to Improve French Speaking in 5 Steps
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
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 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 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, comprehend and perform
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 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.
3. Get in the game!
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 in 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 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, 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
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…
Improving your French speaking isn’t just about getting comfortable with your own voice. It’s about getting comfortable with the entire French-speaking world.
If you think that sounds like too much for one French learner to handle, you’re right. That’s why FluentU does the hard work and brings the French-speaking world right to you.
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:
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.
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:
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.”
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.