“Rien ne passe comme les années, rien ne dure comme les minutes !”
These words from fiction author Gérald Bertot mean, “nothing passes like the years, nothing lasts like minutes.”
How true is that?
As 2016 comes to a close, we realize just how short a year actually is when judging it by how much we have accomplished.
As Bertot insinuates, a year can pass by quickly but it’s really the minutes that add up over time. For many French learners, there may be many vague resolutions made for 2017 about progressing in the language without an actual starting point or direction. To make every minute count up, you need to set specific, concrete and achievable goals.
What better way to set goals than to make some solid New Year’s Resolutions?
For all French learners looking to make those minutes count in 2017, this post offers multiple resolutions for different skill levels. The following language resolutions will touch upon various categories and offer suggestions on how to incorporate them into even the busiest schedules.
Even though the sections are broken down by level, it’s important to note that there isn’t really a solid level for each language. For example, a learner could have an intermediate level in terms of grammar usage, but consider him or herself more of a beginner in language comprehension. For the best results, find the resolutions you’re most comfortable with and don’t hesitate to mix and match!
12 Fantastic New Year’s Resolutions to Improve Your French
French Resolutions for Beginners
A beginner can be considered as a learner who’s never learned a single word or someone who’s still getting started and finding their footing. You might be building your vocabulary base, getting some more general knowledge of how French grammar works and learning to understand clear, slow-paced, spoken French.
This may be both exciting and daunting at the same time. Here are some possible resolutions in order to add some structure to your language learning for the New Year.
1. Learn One Basic Vocabulary Word Every Day
The first task you’ll need to accomplish when starting is usually finding the relevant nouns needed to be understood. For this level, it’s best to try and learn the most common vocabulary words needed in everyday language.
Now, what does that mean and how to avoid memorizing long lists of words?
Remember, you have 365 days in a year and you only really need 250 words in order to have a decent conversation. If you learn one word per day, not counting the weekends, you’re well ahead of most beginning learners.
To figure out what to study, focus on the words that you use in everyday conversation in your native language. This list should include: nouns, interjections, connections, prepositions and so on. Then, set about learning those! You could also start by checking out a list of the most common French words.
2. Master Basic French Grammar
French is perhaps the most difficult Romance language when it comes to grammar. There are almost twenty tenses, three types of conjugations without counting the irregular verbs and masculine and feminine forms to worry about.
You should aim to memorize the regular verb conjugations for –ir, -er and -re endings, since the majority of verbs you’ll need will be regular.
For the irregular verbs, you should focus heavily on the verbs etre (to be) and avoir (to have) since these two verbs will help you form other tenses later on.
Furthermore, instead of trying to master tenses such as the subjunctive right from the get-go, learn the present, past and future tenses solidly this year. These tenses will allow you to communicate and understand the majority of conversations.
It’s not as difficult to master all of this as it seems. Try devoting one month to each conjugation or each tense, practicing it as much as possible. For example:
- January: Present tense conjugations of regular -re verbs.
- February: Past tense conjugations of regular -re verbs.
- March: Present tense conjugations of irregular -re verbs.
This focused practice will help you retain the information without feeling overwhelmed.
3. Listen to 1 Hour of French Audio Every Week
It’s normal to not be able to follow a conversation between native speakers at this point. In the beginning, we sometimes become stuck on words or expressions that are unfamiliar and miss the rest of the dialogue. Thus, you never really get into the flow of the language.
Beginning learners should focus on training their ears to become accustomed to the French language.
Listen well, listen closely and listen as often as possible! Set yourself a reasonable goal that you’ll always stick to. Above, we’ve suggested one hour of active, focused French listening. You could decide to spread this up into less than 10 minutes of focused audio every day, or condense it into one full hour of listening on your day off.
The best way to focus on listening comprehension for beginners is to listen with a video available. The video will allow you to have a general idea the overall context and how the speakers are feeling by their facial expressions and tones.
4. Observe Francophone Holidays
A language is always associated with the cultures that speak it. The culture influences the language, and the language influences the culture.
Staying in tune with these cultures will help keep you motivated to learn the language, and it will aid in your understanding of certain terms and expressions if you learn more about the cultures of the Francophonie.
Do some research on typically French holidays and celebrations, such as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) and Bastille Day. Explore the entire Francophonie for their holidays and mark them down on your calendar. When each new holiday arrives, try to study up on the associated language, food, music and traditions. Spend that day watching live broadcasts of celebrations, try to recreate the holiday at home or plan a trip!
French Resolutions for Intermediate Learners
An intermediate learner usually has enough basic vocabulary for conversational exchanges, makes few mistakes in terms of grammar and can understand native speakers in non-technical conversations.
This level is perhaps the most difficult for French learners, since they progress more slowly than they did in the beginning. It can be difficult to figure out how to progress beyond this stage, and many find themselves at a sort of language plateau.
Here are some New Year’s resolutions that intermediate learners can use to get themselves out of the language learning slump.
1. Learn One Synonym Every Day
French is an extremely rich language when it comes to vocabulary. Instead of using the same words over and over again, it would be beneficial to discover synonyms and alternative expressions.
Every day, think of one French vocabulary word you already know well. Then, look up its synonyms in a French-language thesaurus. Memorize one of those adjectives over the course of the day.
Reading in French can greatly increase exposure to new and area-specific vocabulary. Online newspaper articles and magazine articles can help you diversify your word choice since the articles are written in everyday language for the general public. You could aim to read one short article per week and make note of new words that you see often or that you might like to employ instead of more basic vocabulary.
2. Have a Weekly Grammar Review Session
You might be familiar with many of the tenses and have already mastered basic French conjugations at the intermediate level.
However, “mastery” is a relative thing, and it can slip away from you over time. Many of us tend to rely on the same old, simple grammar tenses time and time again. Meanwhile, using only a few tenses and simple sentence patterns could impact your conversational skills and your ability to pass for a native speaker. Using a variety of tenses and other grammar points allows you to sound more natural and fluent.
Every week, identify phrases that you find yourself using often and try changing their structure for a more varied way of speaking. To do this, let yourself free-write a paragraph or a page of French text without thinking too hard about the language. Then, scan through the text and try to frame your ideas with different grammar patterns. This is a great Sunday morning coffee activity.
3. Listen to 1 Hour of French Every Day
As an intermediate learner, you need to step up your listening game big time. One hour a day should do the job.
However, this doesn’t have to be intense, focused listening. You can mix in passive listening as well, by leaving on podcasts and music playlists in the background while you work, study, clean, drive and anything else.
Keep in mind that there are different accents and dialects of French from around the world, and you should aim to expose yourself to as many as possible while listening. French spoken in France sounds different from the French spoken in North Africa, and these two both sound distinct from Canadian French.
Try watching one of your favorite films in French to see how average people communicate on a daily basis and train your ear to hearing French instead of being thrown off by accents.
4. Learn About a New French Artist Each Week
Paris can still be considered a hot spot for writers, poets, painters and other types of artists. Once one of the major capitals during the Renaissance period, the city of lights has produced copious amounts of both literary and visual art. The rest of the Francophonie has contributed greatly to the world of art, music and culture as well.
At this level, you should be sampling French writers, poets and painters all the time in order to increase your exposure to the French language’s artistic heritage. Writers such as Guy de Maupassant and poets like Baudelaire will prove to be easy and fascinating reads at this level.
Every week, choose a new artist to focus on. Visit a local museum if possible, explore their works and grab a biography of their life history.
French Resolutions for Advanced Learners
At this level, you’ll have a large vocabulary and solid mastery of grammar with only a rare error every once and again. This group can communicate with native speakers well and fluidly.
It can be difficult to figure out how to improve your French skills at this level. However, the good news is that learning never stops. Since you’re an advanced learner, it now becomes much more interesting and rewarding.
The following resolutions will help you go from better to best when it comes to learning the language.
1. Focus on Specific Vocabulary Themes Every Month
You probably have all of the vocabulary you need to have engaging conversations, but how much of your vocabulary is area-specific? How many key vocabulary words do you know for discussing things like science, technology, healthcare, politics, law, international relations, beekeeping and basket weaving?
Identify fields and interests where you feel that you lack the proper technical vocabulary. For example, learners working in the field of finance need financial vocabulary that could help them advance in their careers and make new contacts in the industry. Equally, art lovers could find themselves learning painting or technique related vocabulary in order to meet similarly passionate people.
No matter your life story, you can benefit from branching out, so switch up your area of vocabulary study every month for a major vocabulary boost.
2. Practice Grammar Through Daily French Journaling
Even in our native language, we sometimes find ourselves using the same sentence constructions and simple grammar. It’s important to change up your sentences so you don’t get caught in this grammar rut and your usage stays sharp.
First, start a daily journal. Start keeping a personal log of your daily life and all the things you experience. Keep track of your thoughts, feelings, successes and struggles with learning French.
Then, get creative with this journal. Try changing up your sentence structures and finding new ways to express yourself. You might find that you can express your ideas better when using one construction as opposed to using another. French isn’t as direct of a language as English, and certain ways of expressing yourself just “land” better. What feels right? Go back through your entries and highlight your favorite sentences and moments.
3. Get Your Daily News in French
Follow a reputable French newspaper or news broadcasting channel online, and frequent it every single day. Bookmark it and keep that bookmark visible on your browser’s toolbar. When you catch yourself reading about something in English, switch over and read about it in French afterwards—just keeping in mind the bias that any news source naturally has, and the different perspective framed by another culture, country and language.
Your speaking skills will better serve you if you can back up your thoughts and opinions using source material. Many online videos can provide easy access to French news events and allow you to rewind and review information as needed. Jot down notes while you watch, and pay close attention to how people are using their news-related vocabulary naturally.
If you’re feeling bold and in the mood to discuss things further, respond to videos and articles in the comments sections—in French. Ask a question, get a conversation going or refute something you believe to be inaccurate or misleading.
4. Learn About One French History Topic Every Week
You might have some solid knowledge about important French figures, artists, cultural highlights and holidays by this point, since you’re already advanced.
Delving deeper into the history of the Francophonie will help you to better understand why certain things are the way they are in France and around the French-speaking world.
For example, the French are extraordinarily attached to their paid vacations and national healthcare. Do some research and find what situations caused such changes in the country. Your knowledge of the language, culture and history will be much appreciated by the locals.
These resolutions aren’t meant to overshadow your own personal ones for 2017, but rather, to be used as loose guidelines or starting points for increased efficacy in improving your French. All those minutes that Bertot refers to will accumulate throughout the year and reward you with fantastic results if you stick to your resolutions.
The trick with language learning is organization. Break down your resolution into weekly or monthly goals and plan your year ahead of time.
This will take away some of the stress and permit you to stay focused.
Happy New Year!
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