You’re at the movies, and you’ve just seen a French film that you have to talk about.
You jump out of the theater, excited to share your thoughts and discuss the plot.
But you feel nervous—you’ve never moved past beginner conversation in French, and there is a lot of vocabulary you don’t quite know yet.
So how do you move past feeling like you can only handle the basics of French, to a level where talking about a movie is only one of many things you can discuss with ease?
Moving from Beginner to Intermediate French Conversation
As a language learner, you know that the best way to boost your skills is to practice as often as possible. Whether you read a chapter or two of your favorite French novel, listen to a new podcast, watch an episode of your favorite French show or simply go over French verb tenses, it’s always good to expose yourself to the language whenever you can. Moving from a beginner to an intermediate level requires a lot of hard work and persistence in this area.
As you continue to build up more advanced French knowledge, the number one key to move from beginner to intermediate conversation is to use this knowledge in some form every day. This means applying what you’ve learned as you learn it, and being bold enough to use unfamiliar words, phrases and topics in your daily conversation.
This practice serves the end goal of learning French—being able to think, converse, read and write in French. Though at the beginner level it’s difficult not to automatically translate from French to English (and vice-versa), the best way to truly advance is to start forcing yourself to think in French.
At the intermediate level, it’s important to begin immersing yourself in such a way that you understand the words and phrases you’re exposing yourself to, but that you also start to train your brain to think in this new language—without translating into English in order to understand.
Below are some basic ways you can build your base knowledge and some ways you can apply this knowledge to bump your conversation skills to the next level.
5 Swift Ways to Climb to Intermediate French Conversation
1. Watch popular French television shows
France has a wide variety of television shows. From game shows and talk shows to sitcoms and dramas, online you can find the show that you love most and dive into it. Turn on the subtitles while you’re watching and try to match the French with the English equivalent below.
To improve your French level (and to practice reading French words as you listen to them), switch from English subtitles to French. This will not only force you to read French while you’re listening to it, but will also train your brain to understand French on its own without the English translation.
An important trait of watching popular television shows is that you learn words, phrases and trends that you can incorporate into your own conversation. Write down anything you’re confused about and look it up online or ask your language partner when you meet.
How to incorporate your television knowledge into conversation:
Since you’re often learning vocabulary that is relevant to what native speakers say, start incorporating that vocabulary into your conversation little by little. Use one new phrase per day—whether it’s a new idiom, a new slang term or simply a vocabulary word you just learned. This will train your brain to recognize the new term as part of your vocabulary, and you’ll start to use it naturally.
What’s new with TV is also a fantastic conversation topic—and if you’re keeping up with the shows that people watch regularly, you’ll also be armed with this important cultural knowledge.
What are some words and phrases you can use?
- Est-ce que tu as vu le nouvel épisode? (Have you seen the new episode?)
- Mon épisode/personnage préféré est… (My favorite episode/character is…)
- J’ai adoré le moment où… (I loved when…)
- Est-ce que tu connais la nouvelle série…? (Have you heard of… [TV show name]?)
2. Start learning vocabulary for a wider variety of topics
Though you will learn vocabulary from watching television and reading books and magazines, it’s also important to actively seek out new terms and phrases. The BBC has a great website complete with vocabulary lists sorted by letter, and even has a guide to the newest French slang.
You can also learn new words in context with FluentU videos. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, commercials, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken in modern life.
One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:
Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said in intermediate clips? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner through interactive captions that will guide you along the way.
Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” this is what appears on your screen:
You can also use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”
As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience. Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
To expand your vocabulary, consider focusing on a new subject every week—for example, learn kitchen terms and phrases. Tape cards with labels on your kitchen appliances and look up idioms and phrases that relate to cooking or the kitchen. This tactic will significantly progress your fluency, as it trains yourself to identify an item with the French word, rather than identifying it with the English word and then translating it into French. Then incorporate terms little by little as the week progresses.
After you’ve spent the week learning, sign up for a French cooking class, which will give you an opportunity to both hear the words you’ve learned in context and cook a new meal. The following week, choose a new topic to focus on, but don’t stop using the new kitchen terms you’ve learned.
How to incorporate new vocabulary into the conversation:
To make the process of using new words and phrases easier, take the terms you’re familiar with and add a new word into the same sentence or in the same conversation. Let’s use the kitchen example.
If you’re already comfortable talking about your favorite food or drink, consider mentioning something about how you made it, or talking about a new kitchen gadget you just bought. For example:
J’aime le café. (I love coffee).
J’ai acheté une nouvelle cafetière la semaine dernière (I bought a new coffee pot last week).
3. Attend a language exchange group (and find someone with a higher level of French)
Attending a language group is essential to keeping up your conversation skills, and it gives you the perfect opportunity to include your new vocabulary and grammar skills into conversation.
When you go, actively seek out someone who is either fluent or advanced in French and talk to them—a lot. Listen to how they’re using the language and take mental notes (or real notes, if you feel comfortable doing so).
Sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with someone who speaks more quickly or more confidently, but don’t be scared to ask them to repeat themselves or to give the definition of a word. In fact, that’s the reason language exchange groups exist—for you to learn and to ask as many questions as you need.
How to use your new knowledge in a language exchange group:
This is the perfect time to try new things and make mistakes. Start conversations based on what you’ve learned the past week. Talk about the new TV show you watched, the latest book you finished or an article you read in the newspaper.
Write down the words and phrases you want to use before you arrive and make yourself use them at least once.
What are some words and phrases to use while conversing?
- Répétez, s’il vous plaît. (Please repeat that.)
- Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? (What does that mean?)
- Pouvez-vous expliquer? (Can you explain that?)
- Quelle est votre série préférée? Quel est votre artiste préféré? (What’s your favorite series? Who’s your favorite artist?)
4. Pick up a book that’s easy to read
At a beginner level, it’s easiest to read children’s books, as they typically have pictures or a very basic level of French. As you move to an intermediate level, pick up a short novel—maybe a novel or work of nonfiction written for high school students—that is easy to read but will still present a challenge grammar- and vocabulary-wise.
As you go through the book, note any sentence structure or unfamiliar phrases in addition to new vocabulary. Visit a French grammar website, such as Tex’s French Grammar, to determine how to understand the grammar. Find ways to incorporate new tenses and grammar rules into your speech to make it more developed.
How to incorporate your reading into conversation:
As you begin to pick up books, bring your new reading habit into the conversation and ask others what kind of books they like to read—especially the genre you feel most comfortable reading. Ask people if they know about any books that are similar to the ones you’ve already read.
Then, share what you’ve already read. This will give you an opportunity to go back through the plot and see how much you’ve truly understood. It may also spark some interesting discussions about literature that will inspire you to continue reading.
What are some words and phrases you can use?
- Quel genre est-ce que vous préférez? (What genre do you prefer?)
- J’ai lu ___; connaissez-vous un livre semblable? (I read [book title]; do you know of a similar book?)
- J’ai trouvé l’idée de ___ un peu difficile; pouvez-vous m’expliquer? (I found [certain concept] difficult; would you mind explaining it to me?)
5. Read a French newspaper or magazine
Keeping up with the news has many advantages—you stay current with the most relevant information, you get to practice reading the kind of French that has the sole of purpose of informing, and you learn more about French culture.
I suggest reading through the newspaper or a magazine once a week to stay in the know; this will arm you with endless conversation topics and keep you educated. Some great French publications include Le Monde and Le Figaro, both daily newspapers; Paris Match, a sports magazine; Vogue, a fashion magazine; and Le Magazine Littéraire, a literary magazine.
The difference in prose found in books and newspapers can be stark. In novels, the writing is often poetic, loose and creative; in newspapers, it’s clean, succinct and often uses common words and terms. Even though it may be easier to understand, there is a lot of journalistic jargon you can find in newspapers that makes up its own category of vocabulary.
When reading an article, just as when you read a book or watch a TV show, highlight words and phrases that feel unfamiliar. Make a list of terms—in newspapers, there are a lot of stories about disaster, war, weather, and politics—that you’ll be most likely to see over and over.
How to incorporate news into conversation:
People always want to talk about what’s happening in the world. Knowing what’s going on can help you both start a conversation and jump into one that’s already happening.
Use the information you’ve learned, along with the new words and phrases acquired from your vocabulary studying, television shows and reading, and start talking about what’s going on in the world. Having something to talk about that everyone can relate to will only make the conversation easier.
What are some words and phrases you can use?
- J’ai lu que… (I read that…)
- Quel journal préférez-vous? (What newspaper do you like to read?)
- Les nouvelles étaient déprimantes cette semaine! (The news was depressing this week!)
As you continue learning the fundamentals of French, use your skills through conversation. Obtaining fluency in French is possible, and moving from beginner level to intermediate level is a major, exciting step.
Through consistent exposure to the language and daily practice, your skill level will move from beginner to intermediate in no time.
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