Why so serious?
I won’t sugar coat it. Learning French can be a downright tricky business.
But just because it’s tough at times doesn’t mean we have to take it so seriously.
When it comes to learning a language, a positive attitude really can make all the difference in the world (insert smile here).
It sounds super cheesy, right? And what does it mean anyway, to have a positive attitude?
Well, I’m here to break it down for you in 7 easy steps.
On y va! (Let’s go!)
Your Mindset Matters: 7 Ways to Improve Your French Daily
1. Make it Fun
In the real world, speaking French means exploring the world in a way that simply isn’t possible by just speaking to people in your native language.
It’s not just that you can more easily visit one (or all!) of the 29 countries where French is an official language, but you can speak with so many more people and learn so much more about their cultures and the world. Even if you only have a few key sentences at your disposal, it can change your whole experience.
Since the outcome of learning a language is so great, why not make the learning itself just as fun? You could buy a new French game or puzzle, host a French trivia night or just plan a French-only apéro (cocktail) hour. There are all sorts of ways to make French fun!
I’d recommend you give FluentU a try. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. That means you’ll be learning French with authentic video content that French natives actually watch on the regular. It really helps to keep things fun and fresh!
Plus, the interactive subtitles, vocabulary lists and tailor-made flashcard decks will help you learn actively while watching your favorite videos, giving you an extra boost in French reading and listening practice.
2. Learn to Laugh at Yourself
“Hi, I’d like to make an appointment to have my horses cut and colored please. Um, I mean my hair.”
Chevaux, cheveux (Horses, hair). We’ve all been there. You mean to say one thing, but you accidentally say something else which sounds practically identical—mais malheureusement (but unfortunately) it’s completely and hilariously nonsensical.
Lots of us are scared of putting ourselves into a situation where that could happen, and so we often avoid those situations altogether. We avoid saying anything we aren’t 100% comfortable with saying.
The problem with that? It slows the learning process. While in the short term it makes us feel better about ourselves, it ultimately means we spend longer becoming fluent in French because we’re less willing to try out what we’ve learned to keep making real progress.
Here’s what I suggest you do if this comes up in your life. It’s really quite simple. Learn to laugh at yourself.
I completely understand that it’s hard to sound silly, especially when we consider ourselves to be generally intelligent people. But learning French (or any language, really) is all about making mistakes so that we can do it right the next time.
Plus, without those moments you won’t have as many funny stories to tell your friends. And wouldn’t that be a shame!
3. Show Persistence
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are outstanding language skills. The trick is to keep with it and remember that every little bit helps. Sure, there might be days when your attention wavers, or when you feel like your French skills are moving in reverse.
Those are the best days for doing something rewarding that reminds you why you love learning French. You could watch your favorite French movie or check out some cool videos—whatever works for you!
4. Always Keep Exploring
Today there are so many ways to learn French.
You can take classes in person or online. You can read books, write to a pen pal, find a conversation exchange or Meetup group, watch movies, television or videos, or you could even use one of the gazillion online and mobile tools available to langauge learners these days.
If you’re like pretty much every other French learner, you’ll eventually get to a point where something stops working. Maybe you’ve outgrown your teacher or you no longer have time to read French novels. Never fear! If you find your language learning stagnating, just try switching it up a bit.
It’s pretty common to find that what worked for you as a beginner just isn’t going to work for you as an intermediate learner, and that’s okay! There’s a dizzying number of options out there for learning French, so when one falls flat just move on to the next.
The more excited you are about the tools you’re using, the faster you’ll learn and the more you’ll enjoy yourself.
5. Value Your Learning Opportunities for What They Are
For one reason or another, not every class or tool or conversation exchange is going to help you learn in exactly the way that you wanted it to.
Maybe the class is too simple, the tool too archaic or the conversation exchange buddy too boring. Instead of being disappointed in it, let that failure teach you something about yourself, about your learning style and about what you hope to get from your French studies in the future. That way, no matter how you learn, you’ll be able to get something out of each experience that will help you learn even better in the future.
6. Be Receptive to Feedback
This goes out to all you perfectionists in the group.
Since you don’t learn language in a bubble, chances are you’ll receive plenty of feedback (welcome or not!) throughout the learning process.
It can come from any number of places, like a teacher, a classmate, an online tool or even a relative who fondly remembers the year he spent studying French decades earlier. And sometimes that feedback can be hard to hear.
We don’t want someone telling us that our accent doesn’t sound French, or that our judgment is completely off when it comes to using tu (you, familiar) and vous (you, formal). Because the fact is that it can feel personal, in part because learning a language itself can be such a personal endeavor.
So what to do if you’re not someone who adores receiving input from everyone who has ever spent time studying the French language?
Try this. Listen to what they say and, if you don’t think it’s accurate, research it for yourself.
Not convinced your French sounds as bad as your friend tells you it does? Record yourself saying sentences filled with r’s and then play the recordings back. You’ll be able to judge for yourself. If she’s right, it’s totally acceptable not to tell her she’s right. Just work on fixing the problem by yourself.
7. Take Everything with a Grain of Salt
I know, I know. I just told you to be receptive to feedback. And you should be! But that doesn’t mean it’s all going to be right.
Learning French is a complicated business, and the French are a notoriously opinionated bunch. Put those things together and you’re sure to get some conflicting information. You may follow the instructions one teacher gave you, only to have another teacher tell you that’s so not the way it’s done. Sometimes you just can’t win, but remember to research what you aren’t sure about and never forget that not all feedback is good feedback.
It’s up to you to be the final judge.
So there you have it, fellow Francophile and future Francophone, 7 ways you can become a better French student.
Never forget that, at the end of the day, how you approach your learning might just make all the difference in the world.
Bon courage! (Good luck!)
Jamie Walters is a freelance writer and the owner of Pure Paris, a travel planning company that provides personalized daily itineraries to help travelers see Paris like a local. Originally from Seattle, she and her husband now live in Paris, where they have immersed themselves in la vie Parisienne.
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