6 Efficient Steps to Learn How to Speak French Fast
If you’re wondering how to speak French fast, know that it won’t be easy, but it is possible if you’re motivated, diligent and realistic about your goals.
In this post, I’ll show you how to get in the right mindset for quick success with French learning and I’ll share a six-step plan for strategic, efficient learning.
Come along with me and you’ll be speaking French in no time!
- 1. Learn the Most Common French Vocabulary and Phrases
- 2. Mine Videos for Fun French Lessons
- 3. Listen to Authentic French Content as Often as Possible
- 4. Focus on Speaking French as Soon as Possible
- 5. Use French to Learn French
- 6. Establish a Consistent French Study Schedule
- Get Prepared to Learn to Speak French Fast
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
1. Learn the Most Common French Vocabulary and Phrases
Even native speakers don’t know every word in their language!
Instead of learning as many French words as possible, focus on learning very common, very useful words.
a. Decide how many words you’ll learn and which ones
If you know the 1,000 most frequent words in a language, you can understand 80% of that language!
That’s more than enough to be conversational in French. And you can learn 1,000 French words in a six-month period by learning just six words a day.
Here are several resources that can help:
- This Wiktionary page lists 2,000 of the most common French words.
- The book “501 French Verbs” gives you the most frequent and important verbs.
- This FluentU post contains 70 common French phrases to help you start speaking.
You can also make personal vocabulary lists based on your French goals.
- Write (in English) the words and phrases you want to learn.
- Find a reliable source (a dictionary, native French speaker, etc.) and translate your list into French.
You’ll also want to pay attention to French filler words.
French speakers use different verbal tics to fill speaking gaps in conversation: euh (umm), ben, oui (yes, of course), ben, non (of course not) and others.
Adopting these sounds yourself will quickly add a flair of fluency to your French.
Using French filler words will also:
- keep you in “French mode” when speaking.
- give your French speech native-like cadence and rhythm.
- cue native speakers to continue speaking to you in French.
b. Use study techniques to remember new vocabulary
The easiest way to memorize vocabulary is with flashcards.
You can do this with physical cards or a digital flashcard app. Anki, for example, sorts your cards automatically and uses a “spaced repetition system” to help you review old words.
You might also employ mnemonic devices to create connections that support memory. Try the book “French by Association,” which teaches basic French with word-association techniques.
2. Mine Videos for Fun French Lessons
Foreign language sentence mining is pulling sentences from authentic content to see how grammar and vocabulary are used in real life.
Scriptorium, a technique developed by Alexander Arguelles, consists of writing sentences while speaking them out loud.
Use videos, sentence mining and scriptorium to create your own French lessons.
a. Select French video sources and transcribe them every day
Videos provide more context than audio alone and they make learning more entertaining!
Your French video sources should:
- be genuinely interesting to you.
- have a transcript, “cheat sheet” or subtitles.
- cover topics you know well or movies you’ve already seen.
- have continuous French speech as it’s spoken in real life.
- feature a solid storyline to provide context.
- be high quality, like videos on Canal+.
Now, get ready to pause your video to transcribe what you heard.
The basic transcribing process:
- Write the date (for progress tracking).
- Play the video and listen carefully.
- When the sentence ends, pause the video.
- Write down the sentence. Speak each word aloud as you write it.
- Replay and pause as many times as needed until you’ve finished writing the sentence.
- Repeat this 10-20 times per day.
You might need a lot of replays. You might need to research something, consult a dictionary or ask a native French speaker some questions.
That’s okay! It’s part of the process, especially when you’re trying to learn how to speak French fast.
A few more tips:
- Use subtitles (English or French) as needed. Remember they may differ from the audio.
- Have a goal for each session, like 5-10 sentences.
- If you’re really stuck, move on! This should be like a fun puzzle, not an impossible homework assignment.
If you’re getting frustrated regularly, reconsider the level of your source material. If the material doesn’t seem to be the problem, try cutting back on the number of sentences.
b. Review sentences and return to videos periodically
Review every set of French sentences for 10 days to reinforce them in your brain. You can:
- Read along with audio
- Rewatch the video
- Act out both sides of the dialogue
- Pretend you’re the movie’s hero
- Turn the sentences into a song and sing them to your cat
Make sure to review your sentences out loud and often.
After 10 days, you can “retire” the set. Once you’ve transcribed the whole video clip, you can retire that too.
In a month, try re-watching it. This is important for tracking your French progress and continuing it by maintaining base fluency.
Likely, when you watch the video again, you’ll be surprised by how much French you know!
That’s because memorizing grammar and vocabulary is noticeably more effective when it comes from French source material.
3. Listen to Authentic French Content as Often as Possible
Listening to authentic French content will expose you to the rhythm, cadences and intonations of native French speakers.
This will help you learn French more quickly, improve your comprehension and form good pronunciation habits.
a. Find authentic French content you enjoy
There are plenty of places to find all sorts of French content.
- Youtube. The ever-growing library is home to high-quality French videos on pretty much any topic. Most have French subtitles too. Try:
• Cyprien or Natoo (viral-type videos)
• e-penser (history and science videos)
• Mind Parachutes (self-improvement videos)
- FluentU. This language learning program provides authentic media made by and for native French speakers, plus useful tools like personalized vocabulary lists. FluentU videos:
• Include movie clips, inspirational talks, commercials and more.
• Are organized by level, format and topic.
• Have interactive subtitles with contextual definitions and more.
- French news outlets. Keep up with the world in French. Many news providers offer both written and video news reports. Popular options include:
• Le Monde (The World)
• Radio français international (French International Radio)
- Music. French music has a rich history and a dynamic contemporary landscape. Find French music on:
• Apple Music
- Podcasts. While you’re doing busy tasks, you can probably listen to a podcast. Try podcasts designed for French learners like Duolingo’s French podcast and News in Slow French, or find others via:
b. Practice active listening
If you play French audio while you do chores, that’s passive listening. It’s good for exposure to French, but not much else.
To learn French at a high level, you need to practice active listening. This means you’re interacting with the French audio content in some way.
For example, you can do listening comprehension exercises by completing activities that test your understanding of the audio. Here’s an example:
In fact, this YouTube channel (Learn to French) has many listening comprehension videos. The website Lawless French has more listening comprehension practice.
You can also practice active listening by:
- writing a summary of the audio
- telling your friend about the audio content
For best practice, do these in French!
And at higher levels of French, you might:
- transcribe everything you hear (in French!)
- interpret the audio (orally translating as you listen)
4. Focus on Speaking French as Soon as Possible
A common polyglot recommendation for learning languages is to speak early and often.
And if verbal communication is your end goal, tailor your studies to concentrate fully on spoken French rather than written French.
a. Learn to listen for the nuances of spoken French
French isn’t written the same as it’s spoken.
For example, nous technically means “we” in French. When speaking, however, most French people actually use the word on (which translates approximately to “one”).
Instead of saying Nous sommes allés au supermarché to say “We went to the supermarket,” French people would more likely say On est allé au supermarché.
If you attempt to learn written and spoken French at the same time, you’ll have to learn both ways of creating French sentences.
If, however, you focus on spoken French from the get-go, you’ll be speaking fluently far more quickly.
b. Come to terms with making mistakes
Focusing on spoken French does have its downsides. You may accidentally use spoken French in your writing when you do put pen to paper.
For instance, a native French speaker will usually say Je sais pas (or even ché pa) for “I don’t know.” In writing, though, you’d need to use the correct Je ne sais pas.
Studying spoken French means you’ll need to relearn the correct way of saying things later if you hope to write French properly.
Perhaps more concerning though, it’s scary to speak in a language you hardly know!
How do you know you’ll be understood? How do you know you’re not accidentally offending your conversation partner with some horrible French faux pas?
In short, you don’t.
Indeed, part of the fun of learning a new language is the mental gymnastics we sometimes have to do to make ourselves understood. With luck, your interlocutor will teach you le mot juste (the right word).
And that’s the real beauty of making mistakes—each one gets you closer to truly being able to express yourself in French.
5. Use French to Learn French
The sooner you start thinking in French, the quicker you’ll learn the language.
To help you move away from using English (or your native language), use as much French in your learning as possible.
a. Use lessons that are entirely in French
While it may seem counterintuitive, taking French lessons in French is an extremely useful and efficient way to learn the language—even for beginners!
This immersive environment lets you see the French language in use even as you study it.
Beyond the content of your lesson, you’ll learn French words, phrases, grammar constructions, intonation and pronunciation just by virtue of being taught in French.
To find these lessons, look for words like “immersion” and “in context” in course descriptions.
Here are some places you might find immersive French lessons:
- Official French organizations. L’alliance française (The French Alliance) offers in-person French courses.
- Tutoring websites. Ask your personal italki tutor to teach entirely in French.
- Frantastique. This online French course teaches completely in French and caters to your needs and level.
- YouTube. Français avec Pierre (French with Pierre) and Français authentique (Authentic French) offer French lessons for multiple levels, plus supplementary materials for paying members of their programs.
b. Utilize French learning tools
It’s good practice to use context clues to try to figure out unfamiliar words before checking the dictionary.
As you master core vocabulary and consume more French content, this process will become more natural.
Of course, when it’s impossible to figure something out without help, check the dictionary! Have a French-only dictionary on hand to clarify tricky words and phrases.
If you’re watching French videos, use French subtitles to learn new vocabulary using context clues. It’s an immersive learning practice that will boost your comprehension quickly.
Make sure to study the words and grammar constructs outside the video as well. In-depth definitions and example sentences will help you learn beyond what you can glean from the subtitle context.
6. Establish a Consistent French Study Schedule
Consistency is key, just like exercising. A 20-minute jog every day is better than a three-hour cardio session every two weeks.
When learning French, you have to break it into manageable segments and keep up regular practice to see long-term results.
a. Set realistic goals and a specific schedule
You need more to work with than “I want to speak French.”
For example: “During my next lesson with my tutor, I want to talk about the weather completely in French.”
This works because it follows the STAR method. It’s:
- Specific—you want to talk about a particular topic
- Testable—you’ll see how well you can communicate during the conversation
- Attainable—you have a reasonable time period to accomplish the task
- Relevant—the weather is a common topic for beginners
And I know you want to learn French fast, but you don’t need to rush yourself.
It takes English speakers 600-750 hours to learn French to a “professional working proficiency” level (roughly intermediate).
Again, keep in mind that your brain benefits more from short, frequent study sessions rather than longer, infrequent ones. Two hours a day five days a week is more helpful than five hours a day twice a week.
Worried you don’t have enough time? Consider this daily French study schedule:
- 30 minutes before/during breakfast—read in French
- one hour during your commute—listen to a French podcast
- 20 minutes during downtime—use French learning apps
- 40 minutes during lunch—create flashcards and write in French
- one hour during dinner—watch French videos
- one hour in the evening—active learning (review, transcribe from audio, study grammar, practice speaking French with a native speaker, etc.)
You don’t need to practice every skill every day, but try to split your time evenly between reading, writing, listening, speaking and grammar.
However you organize your learning, be intentional about what you’ll accomplish in each study session.
b. Stick with your plan
Your motivation for learning French will wax and wane. This is natural, and there are ways to remedy a loss of motivation.
- Change it up. Don’t get bored! Try a new app, go to a new class or use a different learning method.
- Skip it. French can be complicated. Rather than toiling away at something hard, move on. It will likely make more sense later.
- Have fun! Find apps that are engaging, play games that are fun and stick to topics that interest you.
- Don’t give up. Learning a language is hard and not always immediately rewarding. Remind yourself why you want to learn French. You got this!
Get Prepared to Learn to Speak French Fast
Simply diving into any old textbook won’t give you the direction and motivation you need to achieve your goal.
Here are three key steps to learn how to speak French fast:
1. Establish your learning goal.
Ask yourself, “Why do I want to learn French?” Your answer will help you structure your study plan by highlighting the concepts and vocabulary you should spend time on.
If you want to relocate to a French-speaking country for a job, you’d want to focus primarily on French business vocabulary.
If you want to communicate with in-laws or friends, you’d be more interested in studying conversational French.
2. Surround yourself with French material.
To learn quickly, you’ll need to make the most of every minute. Create an immersive atmosphere to live and breathe French.
At the gym or stuck in traffic? Listen to French podcasts. Have time to kill? Watch French TV and films.
Download a dictionary and flashcard app to look up and review words on the go.
Find a native French speaker to chat with regularly. Start your search by attending a French conversation meetup in your area.
3. Keep an open mind.
To learn a new language, you have to check your perfectionism and timidity at the door—especially if you want to learn quickly.
Try to be curious, unabashed, adventurous and ask questions every chance you get.
Some essential phrases to have in your French learner’s arsenal:
- Comment dit-on ___ en Français? (How do you say ___ in French?)
- Qu’est-ce que c’est? (What is it?)
- Je ne comprends pas. (I don’t understand.)
You now have the tools to get the most French learning out of a short timeframe.
Go forth and learn—you’ll be amazed at how much you discover!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)