Time to wake up!
No, no, don’t even think of hitting that snooze button.
We’ve got a lot to do, and lucky for us, the morning is the perfect time to do it!
Consider this your French learning wake up call. If you really want to get fluent—if you really want to understand French movies, read French books and converse with native speakers—you’ll need to learn how to think in French.
No more translating back and forth between your native language. No more digging through your memory just to string a French sentence together.
Don’t get back under those covers!
Thinking in French is actually easier than you… think. You just need a few tips and a little inspiration to help get you started.
In this post, we’ll show you some awesome hacks for putting your brain in French and blocking out your native language.
Then, we’ll put those hacks to use. We’ll walk you through 12 simple changes you can make to your daily morning routine that’ll get you thinking in French automatically.
So, slip on those slippers and follow me.
Simple Tips to Start Thinking in French
The tips and mental tricks below will help you put your brain in French-mode, so that thinking in French becomes a habit. As you’ll see later in this post, the principles behind these tips provide the foundation for much of our new, French-only morning routine. Master them and you’ll set yourself up for language success from the minute you wake up every day.
First things first, stop using your native tongue as a crutch. Okay, I said it before, but I can’t emphasize how important this is. If every time you’re communicating in French, you’re mentally translating through English or another language first, you’ll never reach the level of fluency that you’re truly capable of. You’ll always be stuck to your linguistic crutch.
If you really want to start thinking in French (and you should, since it’s been proven that bilingualism is good for your brain), you’ve got to learn it like a baby. Babies don’t learn language by translating individual phrases back and forth between the new language and a language they already know. Neither should you!
“Okay, but how do I do that,” you ask? That brings us to…
Visualize French Words
Visualize with your eye on the prize. Associate French words directly with visual stimuli, rather than merely with the English terms for those stimuli.
For example, if you’re learning the word eau, don’t think of the English word “water,” but rather picture water flowing out of a faucet. Similarly, if you want to remember the word fenêtre (window), don’t think of its English translation, but instead visualize a window with sunlight spilling through it.
FluentU is perfect for this since it takes advantage of visual aids while introducing new grammar structures and vocab to language learners.
Have you ever had a friend or teacher recommend that you cover your house or apartment with French word labels to help you expand your vocabulary more quickly? Visualization is the idea behind this trick. It’s even easier to do this with language tools like Vocabulary Stickers, which have taken care of all the busywork so you can get straight to absorbing French vocabulary. Vocabulary Stickers come with more than 100 durable, removable labels for objects you’ll find all over your home.
Stick them on your plants, your computer, your phone, your bike and lots more so that everywhere you look, there’s French! As you navigate your home among these labels, soon you’ll start to associate objects with their French words automatically. Visualization will become a breeze, and your stockpile of essential French words will grow. It’s one of the quickest and most natural ways to start thinking in French.
Read for Context
We’ve all been there: you’re reading something in French and you reach a word that’s completely unfamiliar to you. So you go look it up in a dictionary, right?
Wrong! Next time you’re reading in French and you come across a word that you don’t know, just keep reading.
Yes, it’ll be frustrating at first, but the more you force yourself to read for context, the more you’ll realize that your vocabulary has expanded without you having even picked up a dictionary. When you read for context, your brain puts together the pieces of the puzzle and often figures out what those unfamiliar words mean on its own, just like magic.
If you’re absolutely desperate and must look a word up, try looking up its definition in French rather than translating to your native language.
Why’s this important? Well, if you ever hope to one day communicate with real-life French speakers, you’ll need to be able to understand the gist of their message without always turning to your dictionary or asking for translations.
Plus, reading for context won’t only help you practice this essential skill, it’ll also make new words much more memorable since you’re not just plucking them from some vocabulary list.
Diversify Your Learning Material
Read books of all genres. Watch movies from all eras. Stay au courant (informed; up to date) by reading several different French magazines and newspapers.
Thinking in French means being able to express a wide range of ideas. You won’t have a broad enough understanding of the language if you’re only using one type of learning tool. Diversify your exposure to the French language so that your brain takes in the greatest variety and volume of French language usage possible.
Learn How to Say Your Most-used English Expressions in French
Have a catch phrase of sorts that you find yourself saying at least five times per day? Learn how to say it in French. Find yourself repeating certain phrases to your spouse, your pets or yourself every day? Learn those in French, too.
Basically, any expressions, words or ideas that you use often in your daily life can become little vehicles for French communication. Whether you say them out loud or just in your head, you’ll be training your brain to automatically think in French throughout your day.
Plus, your personality and voice will shine through even when you’re speaking in French!
Find a Language Exchange Partner
There’s nothing like having a French conversation with a real, live person to force your brain to start thinking in French straight away.
The pressure of having to keep the conversation going prevents you from constantly translating back and forth between French and your native tongue. The result? A few weeks of awkward, stop-and-go, stilted conversations, followed by a lifetime of seamless, flowing communication in French.
Language-learning challenges are even more fun when you’ve got a friend to talk about them with. You can exchange your own tips and tricks for success, hold each other accountable when you hit that snooze button (which you won’t, of course!) and just generally provide moral support. To get started, here’s a guide to finding a language partner and having a successful exchange.
Commit to the Process
Promise yourself that you’ll make your mornings as much of an immersive French experience as possible, and that you’ll apply all of the above tips and tricks for thinking exclusively in French. And then stick with it. Improvement in a new language doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and commitment.
How to Use Your Morning Routine to Start Thinking in French Tout de Suite
Alright, now that you’ve stocked your toolbox, you’re ready to go. As promised, here are some ways you can apply the above skills to your morning routine.
1. Put Your Morning Mantra in French
Got a mantra you start every morning with? Learn how to say it in French and speak it out loud the second you wake up.
Not only will it inspire you, but it’ll also get your brain thinking in French from the moment you open your eyes.
2. Narrate Out Loud
Narrate your morning grooming ritual in French, as if you were a character in a book. Put that morning routine vocab to the test and try narrating your routine first using je (I). Then try it out using other pronouns such as elle/il (she/he), tu (you), etc. for practice.
Soon enough, this vocabulary will become ingrained in your brain because of the visual associations and the associations with the physical movements that you’re making. And narrating your routine using the different pronouns is just another way to practice conjugations and get accustomed to expressing any idea in French.
3. Wake Your Brain Up with a French TED Talk
Skip the English-language podcasts, news or TV in the morning and instead opt for a TED talk in French. These are great for your morning routine because they’re typically fairly short, and they’re entertaining but also educational so you’ll be gearing up your brain for the day ahead. Plus, there are so many TED talks out there, you’re sure to find many on topics that inherently interest you.
Whatever you do, don’t pause and look up words unless you’re completely lost. Just like reading for context, listen to the TED talk for the gist, not for individual words, and you’ll find that you’ve taken in some new vocabulary along the way as well.
4. Practice Visualization on Your Morning Jog
Run your way to both fitness and French fluency. Your morning jog is a great opportunity to practice the visualization method we discussed above. Mentally name objects you see as you run, such as l’arbre (the tree), la voiture (the car), la boulangerie (the bakery)…
Not only that, but while you’re out for a run, there are no emails, phone calls or people to pull your attention from the task at hand. You’ll be able to focus entirely on the French vocabulary visualization exercise, thus making it all the more productive and effective.
5. Sing in the Shower
Singing along to some of your favorite French tunes in the shower provides another great opportunity to practice visualization.
As you listen and sing, try to pick out key nouns or verbs that you recognize and can picture in your mind’s eye. Build a picture or mini-film in your head to go along with the lyrics.
The rhymes and rhythm of the song should help cement these visual associations (and can also help keep your brain in French-mode). It’s fun and it’s actually quite productive. ‘Nuff said.
6. Talk to an Invisible Friend
Have a conversation with yourself or make a speech to an imaginary audience in French. It can be about anything. The point is to try to do this without reverting to your native language. If you don’t know how to say something that you want to say in French, try to find a synonym in order to express yourself.
Each morning, keep track of how long you were able to speak without getting stuck. As the mornings pass, you should soon start to take longer and longer on this exercise!
7. Get Your Morning News in French
Whether you get your headlines in the paper, on TV or on radio, switch to French news sources.
Learning a language through the news is a tried and true method since the language is often relatively formal, structured and easy to follow. It’s also an awesome way to get essential vocabulary that you’ll need when conversing with French speakers. Not to mention the cultural benefits of viewing world events from a French perspective!
8. Read a French Book on Your Commute
Tired of your boring morning commute? Start reading in French, whether it’s an approachable kids’ book for beginners or an authentic contemporary French novel for advanced speakers. Read for context and your language skills will grow on their own, no matter your level.
The first few pages of a French novel are always difficult to get through because your brain wants so desperately to understand every little word and to associate it with its linguistic counterpart in your native tongue. Resit that urge and keep pushing ahead, concentrating on the overall message of the passage, page or chapter.
Got a car commute? Look for French audiobooks so you can safely learn while driving.
You can also use your French vocabulary to summarize what you’ve read in your own words. Don’t repeat phrases from the original text. Using your visualization skills, you want to translate the mental image you have in your mind into French words in order to describe it.
9. Get Your Morning Coffee in French
Strike up a conversation with the owner of that boulangerie (bakery) or cafe you always go to (in French, of course!). Hey, why not? Maybe he/she will be glad you did and you’ll get a free pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) out of the experience as well!
If you don’t live in a place with easy access to other French speakers, there are still plenty of other ways to practice your conversation skills in the morning. You know that language exchange partner we recommended earlier? Why not set a morning Skype date with him or her, for conversation as you enjoy your coffee before you head to work? (It’s a great way to get around that tricky time difference, too!)
10. Try Out a French Recipe
Even your morning cereal can be swapped out for a French thinking exercise!
Make that French recipe you’ve been dreaming about, whether it’s a simple crepe with fruit or a regional delicacy (depending on how much time you have in the morning!). This fun French recipe site has a number of easy-to-make dishes for you to explore, and the pictures will help you visualize the directions and ingredients.
Cooking in French is a great way to learn essential verbs, and the step-by-step process will help prevent you from slipping into your native language.
11. Hide Anything with English Text
The idea is to achieve as close an experience to total immersion in the French language as possible. If you’re constantly surrounded by English words, how are you supposed to pretend like you only know French?
Hide those English magazines, put parental controls on your English TV channels and put your phone and internet browser in French-mode. That way, even if you’re just checking the weather before getting dressed, it’ll be in French!
12. Don’t Stress Out Too Much
Don’t beat yourself up if an English thought pops into your head. It happens. Thinking in French takes lots of time and practice before it becomes automatic.
Just take advantage of those occasional English thoughts by translating them back into French the second they pop into your head.
Thinking in a new language can seem daunting at first, but with these tips, tricks and changes to your morning routine, you’ll find yourself reading 500-page French novels, watching French movies and more in no time.
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 FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.