When it comes to your French progress, do you have the need for speed?
Now you need to learn. Fast.
You’ve been studying diligently, but it’s just not enough.
While there’s no magic formula that guarantees fluency, there are methods that’ll get you there faster.
How to Learn French Fast: A 4-Step Method to Accelerate Your Progress
There are plenty of well-known (and well-loved) language learning methods already out there.
For instance, you may have heard of “sentence mining“, which gets you using a language as it’s spoken rather than just memorizing parts of it.
Another method is “scriptorium,” developed by Alexander Arguelles, which involves writing sentences while speaking them out loud. The method I’m going to share with you now uses elements of both of those and adds video to the mix.
Don’t worry, it’s simple.
You’ll be watching television shows and movies and writing down sentences. Then you’ll be living with those sentences — reading them, speaking them, breathing them. If you dive in headfirst, it’s amazingly effective and a lot of fun.
1. Select French TV Shows, Movies and Other Video Sources
Why Video? Video provides you with more context than audio alone. You’ll be working out what people are saying, so visual clues help. Also, involving your senses more fully will keep you alert and engaged. More than anything, video makes things more entertaining. With video, you’ll be able to learn while feeling cheerful and relaxed.
How to Select the Best Video Sources
- Keep it fun. The selection process itself should be enjoyable. Look for sources you can watch multiple times in a row, and look for content that you find genuinely interesting. What film character would you most like to be for Halloween? What topics would you like to be able to discuss fluently? If you love soccer, track down some French language sporting event videos and acquire all the soccer vocabulary you’ll need to argue about teams at the bar. If you love movies starring Romain Duris (and who doesn’t?) compile your favorites. Look for language you want to make your own.
- Consider your current level of French. If you don’t feel confident in your ability to fully understand native speakers, you’ll want to consider video sources that are accompanied by a transcript, subtitles or a “cheat sheet.” Many popular French learning podcasts offer transcripts for their listeners. All of FluentU’s French language videos have interactive subtitles which allow you to see every single word’s definition on-screen, if desired. These kinds of resources are ideal if you need help while watching videos. You’ll still want to try without looking, but this way you can check yourself and make sure you’re not getting things mixed up in your mind. If in doubt, play it safe. French as a language uses a lot of similar sounds and it’s easy to mistake certain combinations of words for others.
- Work with what you know. Try to select content that you already kind of understand. Choose videos that feature topics you’re well-versed on, or movies that you’ve already seen a million times in English. This way you’ll know what’s happening more or less and you’ll be able to infer meaning through the overall context. You’ll be expanding your existing French knowledge by placing it in context, while also keeping your sanity.
- Dialogue is essential. Idiosyncrasies in speech are good for practice. Listen for speakers mumbling and saying “Euuuuh…” Try to make sure that most of your sources contain at least some dialogue and a lot of continuous speech. You’ll hear where they naturally omit syllables and blur speech. You’ll hear incomplete thoughts and sentences. The longer people talk without breathing, the better. This is the kind of real-world French dialogue for which you need to prepare yourself.
- Story is context, and context is key. Once you have your source material, arrange it into usable segments. If you’re using a movie, try not to break it up mid-scene or leave out a lot of content between sentences. Aside from this, you can use as much or as little of each source as you like. I might advise against designating the French-language Lord of the Rings box set as your one and only source, but if you’re really determined then I wish you luck on your journey.
- Stick to quality sources. Your sources don’t all have to be broadcast by Canal+, but stay away from more casual YouTube videos of people partying, filming natural disasters, etc. These can be funny but don’t always contain the most reliable content and, as you probably already know, they can take a sudden turn for the tragic or the gross.
2. Transcribe 20-30 Sentences Per Day
Get set up with your video source in a comfortable space. Try creating a designated French space in your home, where you’ll always be in the mindset to immerse yourself in French language learning. You’ll be doing a lot of pausing, so arrange for this with whatever devices you’re using. Pour yourself a beverage, get relaxed and take breaks as frequently as needed. It’ll be fun, but it’ll also be a lot of work.
Every day, start a new “entry” in a notebook by marking the date. Play your video. Try to understand and hold as much of each sentence in your memory as you can. When the sentence ends, pause. Begin writing out the sentence and speak each word out loud as you’re writing it. You might have to replay a few times to get the entire sentence. You might have to do some quick research, or look through a dictionary for a mystery word when you only have a vague idea of how it’s spelled beyond the first few letters. You might need to turn to an internet message board to ask a question about the usage of a particular phrase and then observe the resulting debate between native speakers. This is a process. Enjoy it.
If you have access to English subtitles for your video sources and really need to use them, go ahead. This isn’t “cheating,” because it still requires you to figure out what’s being said in French. You can also use French subtitles to check yourself, but be aware that, for some sources, subtitles may differ from the audio.
Number each sentence so you’ll know when you’ve hit your target number of sentences. If a sentence is threatening to end your world, just write down as much as you can and move on. While context is important, the transcribing process should feel like a fun puzzle. The French word for puzzle is casse-tête, but this language puzzle shouldn’t actually break your head.
If you’re getting frustrated regularly, reconsider your source material. It could be too challenging or not lively enough to hold your interest. If you would rather watch Amélie than a Rohmer film, now’s the time for honesty. If you would actually rather watch Rohmer but are in denial about being a film snob, now’s the time to own it. If the material doesn’t seem to be the problem, try cutting back on the number of sentences.
Remember that we’re striving for immersion during this process. If you’re going to curse in times of frustration, curse in French.
3. Review Each Set of Sentences Every Day for 10 Days
What do I mean by “review”?
I want you to keep these sentences alive in your brain, and reinforce them until you never forget them.
The most important thing is to involve yourself. You’ve deciphered these sentences and pulled them aside for your personal use. Now it’s up to you to make them your own.
Some days, you might read along with the audio. Other days, you might re-watch the video without subtitles. If you’re feeling musical, you might set your sentences to a melody and sing them to your cat. The only rule is to review out loud often, even if you don’t do it every day.
When you read, whether out loud or silently, think about what the sentences express. If your sentences are from a movie, imagine yourself as the characters. Try acting out both sides of a dialogue, complete with gestures and facial expressions. You might not want to do this in the break room at work, but you get the idea.
Once you’ve reviewed a set 10 times, you can “retire” it. If you go by my recommendations, you’ll regularly have 200-300 sentences to review. That’s a lot. This is why it’s important to not spend too much time transcribing. It’s also a good idea to break up reviewing throughout the day, to prevent the bad kind of insanity (the good kind being learning French this fast).
4. Return to Retired Video Sources Periodically
Once you’re done with a video source (or part of one) give yourself a rest and then try re-watching it a month or so later. See if you can speak along with the audio, or if you can simply watch and understand what’s being said. This last part of the method is not only important for tracking your progress, but continuing it. Keeping familiarity with source material after you’ve already learned it will help build and maintain a base for fluency.
As you continue with this method, you’ll be surprised how much French you “know.” You’ll be surprised how quickly this “knowing” spreads to other sources of French you encounter.
You’ll find your efforts at memorizing grammar and vocab are more effective when they’re being applied directly to your source material.
You’ll probably feel pretty cool, too.
Whether you need to increase your learning speed due to a life event or frustration with your current progress, rest assured that you can. If you hear someone speaking French on the television and think “I wish I could talk like that,” stop right there.
Pause, rewind, grab a notebook, play and start transcribing.
Isn’t now as good a time as any to start?
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