Want to learn French, but don’t have time to go to class?
Trying to increase your French aptitude without going back to school?
Lots of people are on the lookout for a way to learn French all on their own — and luckily there are quite a few options!
While having a native French teacher to correct your mistakes is always helpful when you’re learning French, there are a lot of techniques you can use to ensure that the time spent learning by yourself is time well spent.
Try out some of these ideas, and learning solo will benefit your French in many different ways!
5 Easy Ways to Learn French by Yourself
1. Do Written Exercises with an Answer Guide
Written exercises tend to be the bane of many students’ French learning experiences, but don’t knock this useful practice tool. By doing written grammar exercises, you’re making the most of all those rules you try to memorize by ingraining them into the way that you write and speak.
The first step of doing written exercises when you’re learning French by yourself is to find a way to check yourself!
Doing exercises on your own is useless if you can’t check to make sure you’ve answered correctly. That’s why we recommend either purchasing a textbook with answers in the back, or using a site that automatically lets you know if you’re on the right track.
For the latter option, there are several different choices. We quite like Bonjour de France, which offers exercises based on your European DELF/DALF level. Another good one is the French page offered by the BBC, which includes fun games alongside all those grammar exercises.
If you’d rather invest in a book, one of the best for all levels is “Une fois pour toutes.” This book was developed by several prep school teachers to have on hand, once and for all, all of the French grammar and vocab rules a French learner needs. The book is often used with intermediate and advanced students — most notably for AP high school classes. It can be a good primer for people who are just starting to learn, with chapters on the present tense and vocabulary genders. It’s also a great resource for more advanced students, specifically for things you might need to brush up on, like the simple past tense or the subjunctive. Many of the exercises’ answers are available at the back of the text, but complete answer guides are also available online depending on which edition of the book you purchase.
2. Make and Use Flashcards
Remember memorizing your algebra equations or periodic table with flashcards? There’s a reason this time-honored technique has been popular for generations — it works! Flashcards are obviously not ideal for all aspects of learning French, but the simpler elements of the language like vocabulary definitions or translations, genders of words and different verb tense conjugations can be practiced using homemade flashcards.
Once you’ve identified the element you’d like to practice, you’ll need to make the cards. Choose thick cardstock and a ballpoint pen so you’re not tempted to cheat by looking through to the other side!
For vocabulary flashcards, write the French word on one side. On the other side, write either the English word, a French definition of the word or an image of the word. Whenever making vocabulary flashcards for French, always include the gender with a definite or indefinite article. Since these words cannot be separated from their genders, it’s always better to practice both at the same time!
For verb flashcards, simply write the infinitive of the verb on one side along with the tense you want to practice. On the other side, write the conjugation. If you’d rather break down your conjugation memorization into parts, you can also write the person and number on the front side of the card. For example, for the verb parler (to talk), you might write “parler, 1st person, singular” on one side, and just write the conjugation on the other side (je parle).
Whenever you’re practicing your conjugations, be sure to include a subject pronoun. As with the genders of nouns, conjugated verbs in French cannot be separated from their subject pronouns. It’s always better to practice both together.
3. Use Songs to Replace French Dictations
The dictée (dictation) is a common exercise for young French children in elementary school. With a dictée they’re ensuring that they learn how to write correctly — and it can be just as effective for learning French as a second language! All it takes is a text and someone to read it to you. That’s the major difference when you’re learning alone! Who’s going to read to you?
Usually, a dictée involves copying down what the teacher reads out loud, making sure that all of your spelling, verb conjugation and adjective agreement is correct. When you’re learning alone you don’t have someone else to read to you. However, you can still do a dictée by listening to some of your favorite French songs, television shows, movies, podcasts or whatever else you’re into!
First, get some ideas by listening to the French radio, and purchase some songs for download online. You can also find suggestions for listening material over at FluentU’s French video library. We’ve got music videos, cartoons, children’s singalongs, news broadcast clips and much, much more. Pick something you love to listen to so you won’t get sick of studying with it.
Here’s how the dictée works. Let’s say you’ve picked out a great French song. Play the song several times. Three times is the norm for dictées. Songs will be a bit faster, so you can go up to five. Copy down everything you hear. Then, get your hands on a copy of the lyrics via the internet and see how you did! If you’re using FluentU, do your dictée while only listening — not watching — the subtitled video. Then click your way back to the beginning and read along!
Beginners may want to try these dictées by just filling in blanks. Print out a copy of the song lyrics and blank out words or phrases with white-out. Then try to fill them back in correctly while listening to the song.
4. Watch Television and Movies
When you’re learning on your own, learning doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom. Learning French by yourself can extend into your free time as well.
Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you do grammar exercises all day and night, but something as simple as kicking back in front of the TV or watching a movie can be helpful for your French learning.
First, pick a French TV show or movie you want to discover. Watch it for the first time with English subtitles. If it’s a movie, you’ll have to watch it again. If it’s a television show, you can just move on to the next episode. This time, watch it with French subtitles instead of English subtitles. As you get used to this, you’ll soon be able to turn off the subtitles entirely.
Why does this help?
As you get used to a character’s way of speaking and the vocabulary used in the show or the movie, you’ll have a smaller need for the subtitles. The English subtitles are a crutch. Even if you think you aren’t looking at them, you’ll soon notice how much you were relying on them once you switch them off. And that’s okay!
Now you’ll have the French subtitles to rely on. Maybe they’re a bit more difficult to understand, but the advantage here is that you’re no longer switching from French to English or translating the movie as you go.
Listening to French while reading French reinforces your French comprehension without translation, which is one of the key steps towards fluency.
Once you’ve gotten truly comfortable with the film or show, the subtitles won’t be necessary at all!
5. Write with a Goal in Mind
One of the most difficult tasks to accomplish when you’re learning French by yourself can be developing writing skills. You won’t be able to achieve writing perfection all on your own, but you can definitely refine certain skills.
The key is writing with a specific goal in mind, such as practicing the simple future or the different uses of the conditional — which is really how French teachers in lower and intermediate levels function as well.
“Assign” yourself one grammar point or vocabulary list. Write a paragraph or a page showing what you know without looking at your book or notes. Then check your work for that particular element of French grammar against your textbook, correcting any errors.
To make this easier for the “teacher” (that’s you!) you can even highlight all attempted uses of the grammar point or vocabulary in the text before beginning to correct. This way, your eye will know where to go in order to correct the different instances of this point.
Learning French alone only becomes easier when you take advantage of all the resources that are around you. Use this list as a jumping off point. If you want to get creative, the sky’s the limit!
There are tons of other ways that you can venture towards French fluency all on your own!
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