Caught between a rock and a boring French study routine?
Sitting at a desk with a textbook might’ve been all you needed to cram French language basics as a beginner.
Now that you’ve grappled your way to an intermediate level, though, it’s time to enjoy the view!
Do you dream of filling your days with beautiful French prose, popular culture and music?
Maybe you’d like to mix things up a bit and enjoy learning with different people as you advance to fluency.
Challenging yourself to absorb French in new ways while also having fun will help you avoid getting stuck in a language learning rut and keep you advancing quickly.
The challenges below will increase your vocabulary, develop your speaking skills and add to your understanding of French culture, all while providing ways for you to relax and have fun.
Another great way to have fun while challenging yourself with level-appropriate French is by learning with FluentU.
And don’t worry, there’s no reason to sit at a desk surrounded by books to complete these challenges (unless you like that sort of thing). You can do all of these during your lunch break or evenings on the sofa, so you’ll still have time for regular study sessions.
5 Fun Challenges for Intermediate French Learners
1. Talk with Confidence and Accept Your Mistakes
Participating in a French conversation takes a lot of confidence. It can be nerve-racking to try to keep a conversation flowing, and you may even have a constant fear that you’ll forget all the French you’ve ever learnt. Don’t make the mistake that many do and wait until fluency: You’ll never reach it if you don’t put yourself out there and strike up a conversation! For this challenge, try to chat once a week, although more often is always a bonus. Check out this post to find the perfect language partner.
Design a conversation
To help overcome your speaking jitters, create a page of things you want to talk about with your French buddy. These could be aspects of French culture, places they like to visit in France or their favorite French national holiday.
Alternatively, you could ask about things you’ve come across in your studies, unfamiliar phrases and slang, when you would use certain words or music and literature you’ve ventured into.
As your confidence increases, you can try more abstract conversation pieces, e.g., what animal would you like to be and why? If you could travel back in time, where would you go?
A good way to go here is to think about what you would discuss at a party. The ultimate goal is to break the ice, create a good flow of talk and pick up some new vocabulary.
Tips for success
It’s best not to have pages of prompts or to script out your speaking. It’ll seem less natural and you’re likely to trip over something. For best practice, try making cue cards with quick notes or a page with headings in different colors and space to jot a few new words and phrases down. Also, try not to say that you don’t understand if you miss parts, or your partner may start to speak in English. Try to ask them what phrases mean or ask them to repeat.
2. Read Widely and Aloud
Besides being immense fun and a wonderful pastime for Francophiles, poetry is great for getting your daily dose of French pronunciation and reading skills.
Unlike in conversation practice, you can take the time with poetry to concentrate on making each sound perfect. For an astonishingly French sound, try writing a table with each French pronunciation written phonetically with speaking tips as well as how it looks (is spelled) in French. To help get you started, here are some common French pronunciations that may be unexpected considering their spelling:
- ch (pronounced “sh”)
- h (always silent at the beginning of a word)
- s (usually silent at the end of a word)
- ail (pronounced like “I”)
- au or eau (pronounced like “o”)
- gn (pronounced like “ny” or the Spanish “ñ”)
- an (pronounced like “ahn,” a nasal sound)
- th (usually pronounced “t”)
- ou (pronounced “oo”)
This is only a tiny selection of common French sounds. Try to find as many as you can and practice using them consistently: It will massively improve your pronunciation! Don’t forget to practise liaisons (where the ending of one word joins the beginning of the next).
To make this a real poetry challenge, try to perfect the pronunciation of one poem every day for a week.
If you enjoy beautiful, rich imagery and vocabulary, try one of the greats of French literature, Victor Hugo. His work is from the Romantic era and perfect for learning pronunciation and vocabulary.
If you’d like to experiment reading poetry from different writers, check out French Today, where you can improve your French skills by listening to poems being read aloud by a native speaker. Every French skill from pronunciation to listening and reading comprehension can be improved by these poetic resources. You can keep the learning ball rolling with the rest of their French audiobook lessons, too!
For added fun, you could even try reading one of these aloud on a Skype session. Believe it or not, French Today goes beyond reading French poetry aloud for learners and offers Skype sessions and in-person learning sessions (in France).
3. Get Out Your Felt-tip Pens and Master Vocabulary Forever
What is mind-mapping?
Mind-mapping is a way of organizing information around a central concept that is more natural than creating a list. It’s great for visual learners, as the links between information are clear to see and you can keep things interesting by using different colors. For example, if I was doing a mind-map of family vocabulary:
- The central bubble would be “la famille” (the family).
- One branch would have “les parents” (the parents) written along it.
- At the end of this branch would be “la mère” (the mother) and “le père” (the father).
- As I learnt more vocabulary and colloquialism, I might add “maman” (mom) and “papa” (dad) to the end of these branches.
- I would also add branches for all other parts of the family and might draw a famous family member (maybe a cartoon family) by each branch to help me remember the vocabulary.
Why mind-map for languages?
Memory and creativity are closely related. By using colors and illustrations that mean something to you, you’re helping your brain to remember words more easily and for longer.
One of the great things about mind-maps as compared to a page of words and translations is that you don’t have the translations. This helps you to think in French more easily because your brain associates with the object rather than the translations.
If you hear “chien” (dog) and picture a poodle, you’ll remember it better than if you just think “dog.” It’s also a great stress-release to get out the colored pens and doodle, and it’s good to know that at the same time, you’re creating a bank of vocabulary to learn from.
Where can I find vocabulary for mind-maps?
Your course books may have a list of vocabulary for you to learn, and this could be a great place to start for topic-themed mind-maps.
FluentU is also a great resource for finding vocabulary because it uses entertaining, real-world videos to help you remember words and their meanings. The real-life context makes them memorable, plus the visuals of the videos (and images for every word) make you associate the French word with the actual item.
To learn more about all its features, feel free to sign up for a free FluentU trial.
Alternatively, one of the best ways to go is to use your imagination. For example, imagine dining with the French First Lady: What formal language would you use? What interesting vocabulary and unequivocally French phrases would you use?
Mind-map review routine
Filing your mind-maps away, possibly in a ring-binder, is a great way to keep them safe and organized. Filing them by topic area makes them easier to find. Your challenge is to make a mind-map every night for a week and add new vocabulary to them after every study session.
4. Listen to French Until You Start to Sound French
Listening to French music
French music is a brilliant way to touch hands with French culture. You’re guaranteed to find something you like and pick up plenty of vocabulary as you’re singing along to catchy tunes.
This challenge is really great for those with little free time, since you can listen to music while doing pretty much anything. There are even programs out there to help you maximize the learning benefits from your tunes.
Lyricstraining, for example, works by making you write down certain missing lyrics (testing your spelling, too).
Your challenge here is to learn at least one song a week. Here are a few suggestions for dipping your toes into French music:
- Camelia Jordana is France’s answer to Taylor Swift! A French singer of Algerian heritage, she got her big break on “Nouvelle Star” (“New Star),” France’s version of “Pop Idol.” Her fun and upbeat music will have you singing all day long.
- Carla Bruni is a classy singer whose music has an acoustic sound. You might know her as the wife of Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president. Relaxed in style, her music will make you feel like you’re sitting in a Parisienne café.
- Cœur de pirate, an edgy and funky Canadian singer, is definitely worth listening to. Her songs are addictive and her lyrics are easier to pick up than some others as she has a simple instrumentation style.
Working through paroles (lyrics)
Lyrics can sometimes be hard to understand. Work through slowly and try to grasp the meaning of the song without looking up words. If you need a hand, try WordReference to find the meaning of a few words. Keep in mind that song lyrics can be abstract, so don’t worry if the meanings seem a little strange. A good example is one line from Mika’s single “Boum, Boum, Boum” (“Boom, Boom, Boom”):
“Et tous les bourgeois du seizième…” (“And all the bourgeois of the sixteenth…”)
This might sound really weird, and even some French natives might not get it at first. Mika is making a political statement here. He’s referencing the sixteenth arrondissement of Paris, a high-society hotspot, and undermining their views by calling them bourgeois. (Which is considered a negative term for the wealthy, referencing Karl Marx and his views on communism.)
5. Become a French Storyteller and Master Writing Skills
Get writing fiction!
Stories are a great way to practice your writing skills and to share the fruits of your labor without having to worry about sharing personal information about your own life. To get ideas, just let your imagination run wild. Your stories could be about things you see and overhear in your life, or you can open a travel guidebook and imagine your characters’ adventures somewhere entirely different.
Fill your writing with rich vocabulary and try to use different grammar structures. Practicing the passé simple is great for this exercise, especially as you don’t use it in spoken conversation. The passé simple is the literary equivalent of the passé composé, e.g., “He helped me with my homework.”
The imparfait is also a good tense to practice. It can help you describe repeated, habitual or incomplete past actions, e.g., “We were studying for hours.”
By practicing when to use these tenses and how to conjugate the verbs, this challenge will also help improve your reading skills.
Post your fiction for feedback
Getting feedback on your work is a great way to improve your writing skills. Showing your work to a tutor is useful because they can spot all your mistakes, but posting your writing as an italki notebook or adding a note and posting it on the site Fanfic Fr (for French fan fiction) can also get you some feedback.
To really get insightful feedback, you can hire a private tutor on italki to review your work—and, of course, they can guide you through other elements of the French language along the way.
As you progress, you can proofread your own work, which will help you spot mistakes that you make often. Your challenge is to write a story of over 1,000 words in a week and get feedback.
You never know, it may even become a bestseller!
So, what are you waiting for?
Go challenge yourself!
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