Where will you be in six months?
A whole lot can happen in that timeframe. You could switch jobs, move apartments or meet the love of your life.
And you can learn French.
It won’t be easy, but learning French in six months 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 five-step plan for strategic, efficient learning.
Walk with me and no matter where you are in six months, you’ll be there with some amazing French skills.
1. Learn the Most Common French Vocabulary and Phrases
Chances are, if you open a dictionary in your native language to a random page, you’ll come across words you don’t know or ever use. Even native speakers don’t know every word in their language! Why, then, would you waste time learning obscure or unnecessary words in French?
Instead of learning as many words as possible, focus on learning a smaller number of very common, very useful words.
a. Decide how many words you’ll learn
Building a strong core vocabulary will be essential to gaining fluency in the French language, and deciding how many words should make up your core vocabulary will be your first step.
Instead of just choosing a number at random, however, there’s a science-based way to figure out how many words you should learn.
Each word in French—and in every language, really—comes with it a certain level of frequency. This means that some words are used more often in everyday speech than others. For example, we know that the English words “the,” “a,” “come” and “think” are used often by English speakers, whereas words like “acupuncturist” and “exhumation” aren’t used very frequently at all.
Why does this matter? Well, if you learn the most frequent words in French, you can master large segments of the spoken French language.
Numerous studies have indicated that if you know the most frequent 1,000 words in a language, you can understand 80% of everything that’s written and said. If you know the 3,000 most frequent words, you can understand 95%, and if you know the 5,000 most frequent words, you can understand up to 98% of the written and oral language.
While this may sound like a lot, knowing the most common 1,000 words will be more than enough to be conversational in French.
Better yet, in a six-month period (or in 180 days), you can master 1,000 French words by learning about six words a day. That’s a lot more manageable, isn’t it?
I recommend a regimen that combines learning new words and reviewing old ones simultaneously. The easiest way to do this is to create digital or physical flashcards. Each day, create and learn six new French words. Next, review the words that you learned the day before. When reviewing, divide these day-old cards into two groups: known words and words that you couldn’t recall easily.
A random selection of known words should be reviewed about once a week, but words that you can’t recall easily should be reviewed every day until you can confidently move them to the “known” pile.
Some digital flashcard applications such as Anki do this sorting automatically and use a “spaced repetition system” to figure out the optimal time to review new words.
b. Use lists of common French words and phrases
But… how will you know which words occur most frequently in French? Fortunately, there are several resources that can help:
- Check out this Wiktionary list of the 2,000 most common French words.
- The book “501 French Verbs” is also a great resource to have on hand.
- It’s a good idea to have some common French phrases in your arsenal to help you put those new words into actual sentences.
- You can also make your own list based on your goals. Remember when I said your goals will guide your learning? If you have a specific goal in mind, it might be a good idea to make your own word lists.
To do this, make a list in English of the most important words and phrases that you need to know to meet your goal. Then, find a reliable source (like a dictionary, native French speaker, etc.) for getting the list translated into French.
You’ll be surprised at how much you can communicate with just core French vocabulary, even if it’s not the most efficient way of saying something. Sure, you might use 10 words where a native speaker would use five, or use incorrect grammar, but so what? To learn French in six months you need to find the easiest route to expressing your ideas.
Indeed, part of the fun in learning a new language is the mental gymnastics we sometimes have to do to make ourselves understood, and with luck, your interlocutor will teach you le mot juste (the right word).
c. Use mnemonic devices to remember new vocabulary
As much effort as you put into making French learning fun and enjoyable, at some point in your French studies, rote memorization will be necessary. Whether you’re drilling that core French vocabulary or just trying to master those pesky irregular verbs, you’ve just got to remember ’em.
This is where French mnemonic devices come in handy. You probably already use these for many other areas of your work or studies, so you may know how effective they can be for creating connections that support memory. And fortunately, there are plenty of mnemonic devices for French learners already out there that you can pick up and run with:
- Here’s a collection of French mnemonic devices used by a Minnesota State University French professor.
- “French by Association” teaches basic French vocabulary and grammar with word-association techniques.
- This article will show you how to build a “memory palace” to learn new French words.
d. Incorporate French filler words
When you’re watching French movies or TV or chatting with French language partners, don’t just pay attention to the words and grammar. Take note of the verbal tics and filler words that native French speakers sprinkle throughout their sentences.
You’ll notice that instead of saying “umm…” French speakers tend to say “euh…” Perhaps you’ll also notice how often French speakers say ”ben, oui” (yes, of course) and “ben, non” (of course not).
Adopting such verbal tics will add the flair of fluency to your French. This may seem a bit silly when you’re still trying to, say, master basic verb conjugations. However, there are actually significant benefits:
- They’ll ensure that you stay in “French mode.” Filling space with French sounds will keep you thinking in French and pronouncing like a French speaker throughout a conversation, even when you don’t have something concrete to say.
- They’ll immediately give your speech native-sounding cadences and rhythms, without you having to learn any new grammar.
- You’ll “fake it ’til you make it.” This is more than allowed. Sounding fluent (even when you’re not quite there) cues native speakers to continue speaking to you in French, which will increase your learning curve as a result.
2. Mine Videos for Fun French Lessons
You may have heard of sentence mining, which gets you using a language as it’s spoken rather than just memorizing parts of it. It involves pulling sentences from authentic content and using them to see how grammar and vocabulary are used in real life.
Another method is scriptorium, developed by Alexander Arguelles, which consists of writing sentences while speaking them out loud. The method I’m going to share with you now uses elements of both of those and adds video to the mix.
Don’t worry, it’s simple.
You’ll be watching television shows and movies and writing down sentences. Then you’ll be living with those sentences—reading them, speaking them, breathing them. If you dive in headfirst, it’s amazingly effective and a lot of fun.
a. Select French TV shows, movies and other video sources
Why use video? Videos provide you with more context than audio alone. You’ll be working out what people are saying, so visual clues help. Also, involving your senses more fully will keep you alert and engaged.
More than anything, video content makes things more entertaining. With video, you’ll be able to learn while feeling cheerful and relaxed.
Here are some tips for selecting videos to learn with:
- Keep it fun. The selection process itself should be enjoyable. Look for sources you can watch multiple times in a row, and look for content that you find genuinely interesting.
What film character would you most like to be for Halloween? What topics would you like to be able to discuss fluently? If you love soccer, track down some French language sporting event videos and acquire all the soccer vocabulary you’ll need to argue about teams at the bar. If you love movies starring Romain Duris (and who doesn’t?), compile your favorites.
Look for language you want to make your own.
- Consider your current level of French. If you don’t feel confident in your ability to fully understand native speakers, you’ll want to consider video sources that are accompanied by a transcript, subtitles or a “cheat sheet.” Many popular French learning podcasts offer transcripts for their listeners.
FluentU is one tool in particular that includes text with its audio and video clips.All of FluentU’s French language videos have interactive subtitles which allow you to see every single word’s definition on-screen, if desired. These kinds of resources are ideal if you need help while watching videos.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
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 FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% 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.
You’ll still want to try without looking, but this way you can check yourself and make sure you’re not getting things mixed up in your mind. If in doubt, play it safe. French as a language uses a lot of similar sounds and it’s easy to mistake certain combinations of words for others.
- Work with what you know. Try to select content that you already kind of understand. Choose videos that feature topics you’re well-versed in, or movies that you’ve already seen a million times in English. This way, you’ll know what’s happening and you’ll be able to infer meaning through the overall context. You’ll be expanding your existing French knowledge by placing it in context.
- Dialogue is essential. Idiosyncrasies in speech are good for practice. Listen for speakers mumbling “Euuuuh…” and using other French filler words and tics we mentioned earlier.
Try to make sure that most of your sources contain at least some dialogue and a lot of continuous speech. You’ll hear where they naturally omit syllables and blur speech. You’ll hear incomplete thoughts and sentences. This is the kind of real-world French dialogue for which you need to prepare yourself.
- Story is context, and context is key. Once you have your source material, arrange it into usable segments. If you’re using a movie, try not to break it up mid-scene or leave out a lot of content between sentences. Aside from this, you can use as much or as little of each source as you like. I might advise against designating the French-language “The Lord of the Ring” box set as your one and only source, but if you’re really determined then I wish you luck on your journey.
- Stick to quality sources. Your sources don’t all have to be broadcast by Canal+, but stay away from more casual YouTube videos of people partying, filming natural disasters, etc. These can be funny but don’t always contain the most reliable content and, as you probably already know, they can take a sudden turn for the tragic or the gross.
b. Transcribe sentences every day
Get set up with your video source in a comfortable space. Try creating a designated French space in your home, where you’ll always be in the mindset to immerse yourself in French language learning. You’ll be doing a lot of pausing, so arrange for this with whatever devices you’re using.
Pour yourself a beverage, get relaxed and take breaks as frequently as needed. It’ll be fun, but it’ll also be a lot of work.
Here’s the process, in a nutshell:
- Start a new “entry” in a notebook by marking the date.
- Play your video.
- Try to understand and hold as much of each sentence in your memory as you can.
- When the sentence ends, pause.
- Begin writing out the sentence and speak each word out loud as you’re writing it.
- Replay and pause as many times as you need until you’ve finished writing and speaking the sentence in full.
- Repeat this 10-20 times per day.
You might have to replay a few times to get the entire sentence. You might have to do some quick research, or look through a dictionary for a mystery word when you only have a vague idea of how it’s spelled beyond the first few letters. You might need to turn to an internet message board to ask a question about the usage of a particular phrase and then observe the resulting debate between native speakers.
This is a process. Enjoy it.
If you have access to English subtitles for your video sources and really need to use them, go ahead. This isn’t “cheating,” because it still requires you to figure out what’s being said in French. You can also use French subtitles to check yourself, but be aware that, for some sources, subtitles may differ from the audio.
Number each sentence so you’ll know when you’ve hit your target number of sentences. If a sentence is threatening to end your world, just write down as much as you can and move on. While context is important, the transcribing process should feel like a fun puzzle. The French word for puzzle is casse-tête, but this language puzzle shouldn’t actually break your head.
If you’re getting frustrated regularly, reconsider your source material. It could be too challenging or not lively enough to hold your interest.
If you’d rather watch “Amélie” than a Rohmer film, now’s the time for honesty. If you’d actually rather watch Rohmer but are in denial about being a film snob, now’s the time to own it. If the material doesn’t seem to be the problem, try cutting back on the number of sentences.
Remember that we’re striving for immersion during this process. If you’re going to curse in times of frustration, curse in French.
c. Review sentences until you’ve mastered them
You should strive to review every set of sentences for 10 days before moving on from them.
What do I mean by “review”?
I want you to keep these sentences alive in your brain, and reinforce them until you never forget them.
Some days, you might read along with the audio. Other days, you might re-watch the video without subtitles. If you’re feeling musical, you might set your sentences to a melody and sing them to your cat. The only rule is to review out loud often, even if you don’t do it every day.
When you read, whether out loud or silently, think about what the sentences express. If your sentences are from a movie, imagine yourself as the characters. Try acting out both sides of a dialogue, complete with gestures and facial expressions. You might not want to do this in the break room at work, but you get the idea.
Once you’ve reviewed a set 10 times, you can “retire” it. If you go by my recommendations, you’ll regularly have 100-200 sentences to review. That’s a lot! That’s why it’s a good idea to break up reviewing throughout the day, to prevent the bad kind of insanity (the good kind being learning French this fast).
If you make these sentences a part of your everyday life, you’ll actually remember them.
d. Return to retired video sources periodically
Once you’re done with a video source (or part of one) give yourself a rest and then try re-watching it a month or so later. See if you can speak along with the audio, or if you can simply watch and understand what’s being said. This last part of the method is not only important for tracking your progress, but also for continuing it. Keeping familiarity with source material after you’ve already learned it will help build and maintain a base for fluency.
As you continue with this method, you’ll be surprised how much French you “know” and how quickly this “knowing” spreads to other sources of French you encounter.
You’ll find your efforts at memorizing grammar and vocab are more effective when they’re being applied directly to your source material.
You’ll probably feel pretty cool, too.
Whether you need to increase your learning speed due to a life event or frustration with your current progress, rest assured that you can. If you hear someone speaking French on the television and think “I wish I could talk like that,” stop right there.
Pause, rewind, grab a notebook, play and start transcribing.
3. Listen to Authentic French Content as Often as Possible
Half the battle of making yourself understood in a foreign language is mastering the accent! It doesn’t matter how perfect your grammar is if you can’t pronounce words correctly.
Listening to authentic French content is a great way to expose yourself to the rhythm, cadences and intonations of native French speakers, even if you don’t understand everything that’s being said right away. While traditional study materials will certainly be useful for your language studies, you need early and frequent exposure to authentic French speech if you really want to learn quickly. Not only will this provide essential comprehension practice, but it’ll also help you form good habits when it comes to pronunciation and accent.
a. Find authentic French content that you actually enjoy
So what are some good places to find authentic French content?
I already mentioned FluentU, which is a handy option that not only offers real French videos, but also supercharges them with language learning tools. Besides FluentU, there are many places where you can find authentic French content.
The key is to find content that you actually enjoy listening to. Here are some options:
- YouTube. YouTube is a gold mine for finding French content that you will love. Due to its ever-growing content library and the impact it’s made as a social media tool, there are high-quality French videos for pretty much every topic imaginable.
Do you like viral-type videos? Watch Cyprien or Natoo. Want more academic videos on history and science? Try e-penser. What about self-help or self-improvement? Check out Mind Parachutes. Best of all, most videos come with French subtitles for you to read along with.
- News outlets. If you’re a news junky, you are among like-minded folks with French speakers. There are countless news organizations where you can keep up with all the happenings around the world in French. Many offer both written and video news reports.
Some of the most popular include Le Monde (The World) and Radio français international (French International Radio).
- Music. French music has a rich history as well as a dynamic contemporary landscape. The easiest way to discover awesome French music is through browsing on a music service such as Apple Music or Spotify. There are also playlists available on YouTube for new French hits.
- Podcasts. The biggest benefit of listening to podcasts is that they’re completely mobile. Whether you’re commuting to work, sitting in a waiting room, going on a walk or running errands, you can listen to a podcast simply by having a smartphone and a pair of headphones.
Many French news organizations offer a variety of podcasts either on their websites or via Spotify. You could also browse French podcasts on hosting services like PodBean. There are even podcasts specifically for French learners such as News in Slow French and Duolingo’s French podcast.
b. Practice active listening
Perhaps you’ve heard of the term “active listening,” or you’ve been chided by a school teacher, a parent or even a significant other for not doing it at a crucial moment.
But active listening isn’t just a buzzword used by academics and couples counselors: It’s a necessary skill to learning French to a high level.
Active listening means that you’re interacting with the French audio content in some way. This differs from passive listening, which could include, for example, listening to French while washing the dishes, doing the laundry or driving. Passive listening is a good way to keep French swirling through your brain, but real progress happens during active listening activities.
There are a number of ways to practice active listening. One of the most common—and most academic—is doing French listening comprehension exercises. These are generally activities where you listen to something in French and then complete some activities that test your understanding of the audio.
These types of exercises can be found in many places online, from YouTube videos like this one from Learn To French, to French learning hubs like Lawless French. Listening comprehension exercises are also often categorized by level, so you can easily find one that’ll challenge you just enough to be useful. This also means that you can tangibly watch your listening level improve as you tackle more difficult selections.
You can also practice active listening without a “test” component. This can be as simple as writing or saying a summary of something that you’ve just listened to. For example, you may choose to listen to a short podcast episode, then summarize the main ideas. You can also do this for TV shows, movies and even news clips on TV or on the radio.
As your level of French increases, a good goal would be to be able to understand most of the main ideas of a native French audio news report, podcast or song. It’s crucial here not to get bogged down with unknown individual words; aim for understanding of the content at large.
A more intense version of this would be to transcribe—in French—everything that you hear, using the method I described above.
For an added challenge, you could take on the role of interpreter and orally translate spoken French to English as it’s being spoken. You could even try the reverse, translating spoken English into French.
4. Use French to Learn French
It might sound crazy, especially if you’re a beginner, but the sooner you start thinking in French, the quicker you’ll learn the language. This means that, to help you move away from using English (or your native language) as a crutch, you should use as much French in your learning as possible.
a. Use context clues and French-French dictionaries
As you read and listen to French content throughout your six months, it’s likely that you’ll initially pick up the general meaning of whole phrases rather than each individual word, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay: embrace it! After all, we do it all the time in our native languages.
Say you’re reading in English and you come across a word you don’t know. You don’t have a dictionary on hand, so you keep on reading and despite not knowing that one word, you’re able to get the gist of what was being described.
This process will become more and more natural in French, too, as you continue to master that “core” vocabulary and consume more and more French content.
Of course, I’m not advising that you never look up new words when you encounter them. Rather, the idea is to practice using context clues and try to figure out unfamiliar words without resorting to translations or thinking in your native language.
When it’s impossible to figure out the gist without help, use your French-language dictionary to clarify tricky words or phrases.
b. Use French subtitles
French subtitles can be a crucial way to learn new vocabulary using context clues, especially if you regularly mine the subtitles for French words you don’t know and French grammar you may be unfamiliar with. When using subtitles, it’s crucial to be able to get in-depth definitions and example sentences of the words that you can’t learn simply from context clues. That way, you’ll be better apt to recall these words when you hear them or need to use them later.
Not only is this an immersive learning practice that’ll quickly boost your comprehension skills, but it’s also a more effective way to build your French vocabulary than memorizing words in isolation.
These subtitle features are on display in the FluentU program, as seen in this video on FluentU French’s YouTube channel:
Subscribe to the FluentU YouTube channel for more fun language learning videos!
c. Use lessons that are entirely in French
While it may seem counterintuitive, taking French lessons that are entirely in French—even at the beginner stage—is an extremely useful and efficient way to learn the French language.
This is because French lessons that are taught in French create an immersive environment. French words and phrases, grammar constructions and the intonation and pronunciation of the French language are intertwined in the lesson just by virtue of it being taught in French. You get to see the language in use even as you study it.
It’s fairly easy to find lessons in French. If you’re looking for in-person lessons, make sure to search for words like “immersion” and “in context” in the descriptions of French lessons or courses. Oftentimes, courses that are run by official organizations like L’alliance française (The French Alliance) use French as the language of instruction with English as a support language. Naturally, as learners become more advanced in the language, French is used almost exclusively.
There are plenty of online options, as well.
If you’re taking French lessons with a teacher or tutor on a tutoring website like italki, you can ask that the lesson be entirely in French.
Frantastique is an online French course that teaches the French language entirely in French from the very first lesson. While there’s some in-program English translation and explanations, the bulk of the material is in French, including verb conjugations, grammar rules, dialogues and videos featuring some cute aliens exploring French culture. Frantastique also uses adaptive technology to cater future French lessons to your needs and level.
Perhaps the easiest place to find French lessons online completely in French is YouTube. There are loads of French teachers creating amazing learning content whose goal is to teach the language in an immersive, French-only environment.
Some of the best include Français avec Pierre (French with Pierre) and Français authentique (Authentic French). Both of these channels offer lessons for multiple levels of French as well as supplementary materials that can be downloaded for paying members of their corresponding websites.
5. Establish a Consistent Study Schedule
Think of learning a language like a workout regimen. Consistency is key. A 20-minute jog every day is better than a three-hour cardio session every two weeks.
The same goes for learning French in six months. You have to pace yourself and break things up into manageable chunks so you don’t burn yourself out. You also have to keep up that regular practice so you don’t lose what you studied the day before.
a. Set a realistic goal
Saying that you’dlike to learn French is one thing. Creating realistic and attainable goals is quite another.
In order to create a goal that you can meet, I recommend following the STAR method. STAR is an acronym, and the method says that a goal must be specific, testable, attainable and relevant.
That means that rather than having a goal such as “I want to speak French,” you should make a goal like this: “I want to talk about the weather completely in French with my native speaker tutor during our next lesson.” This goal is specific (you want to talk about a particular topic), testable (you will see how well you can communicate during the conversation), attainable (this goal is in a reasonable time period) and relevant (the weather is a common topic for beginners).
The beauty of goals is that you can have many going on concurrently and some goals can have a shorter duration than others. In fact, you can have longer-term goals for learning skills such as reading, writing, listening and speaking but also individual goals for a specific study. For example, you might say that you want to finish a given French novel by the end of the month (longer-term goal) but read 30 pages during a given study session.
I recommend that you carve out a set amount of time each day to study French grammar, learn new words and dive into some listening practice. You can alternate which one you’re focusing on to keep your learning varied and your motivation up.
You’ll probably notice that your listening comprehension will improve most quickly, while speaking skills may take a bit more time to develop. That’s perfectly normal! Keep at it, remain calm in the face of roadblocks and remind yourself each morning why you’re learning French to help keep a fire lit under you.
b. Create a specific schedule
If we return to the “How Long Does It Take to Learn French?” section for a moment, we know that you should study around 30 hours a week in order to reach the 750 hours it takes to attain a high level of French in six months. Even if you aren’t going for that specific number, I recommend setting a time goal and planning out your schedule accordingly.
How you distribute these hours over the course of a week will be completely up to you, but remember: Your brain benefits more from short, frequent study sessions rather than longer, infrequent study sessions. That means that you should aim to distribute the hours pretty evenly over the seven days of the week. For instance, if your goal is to study 30 hours a week, you’d want to study an hour a day, not 10 hours every 10 days.
It might seem crazy to study four hours a day, but you probably have more free time in your day than you realize! A typical day could look like the following:
- 30 minutes during or before breakfast focused on reading in French
- one hour of listening to French during a commute
- 20 minutes of using French learning apps during coffee breaks and downtime throughout the day
- 40 minutes of creating flashcards and writing in French during lunch
- one hour during dinner watching French videos, movies or TV shows
- one hour in the evening actively learning, like going over that day’s learning, transcribing from audio, studying grammar or practicing spoken French with a native speaker
The goal should always be to split your time evenly between the four major language learning skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) and grammar. Rather than doing all the skills every day, you could opt to break them up.
For example, you might spend four hours practicing reading, writing and grammar on one day, and then listening, speaking and watching French videos the next day. By grouping these skills together, you can feel less like you’re trying to complete a to-do list and practice similar skills together.
If completing 30 hours of study a week isn’t possible, you can, of course, apply the same schedule to shorter time periods.
The goal here is to be intentional and plan out what a study session will look like. It’s easy to spin your wheels and watch an hour fly by without having done anything productive. Set a goal for each session of study and move steadily toward French fluency!
c. Stick with it!
The toughest part of learning French in six months actually has nothing to do with the French language; rather, it has to do with you, the learner!
During the six months, your motivation for learning French will wax and wane. There will be distractions, bumps in the road and even days when you feel like giving up altogether. This is natural, but knowledge is power!
There are some effective methods to remedy a loss of motivation.
- Change it up! Believe it or not, the main reason people lose motivation is that they get bored. The brain is constantly craving novelty, and after the initial high of a new resource, learning method or teacher wears off, your mind will start to wander.
You can mitigate this boredom by changing it up. Sick of a resource or smartphone app? Try a new one. Not really vibing with your French teacher or tutor? Ask them to try a new teaching method or respectfully try out a new tutor. Tired of studying flashcards? Try vocabulary lists or games. The possibilities are endless!
- Skip it! French can be a complicated language with many grammar rules and even more exceptions. It’s not uncommon for learners to encounter a grammar topic or vocabulary word and have it just not stick. Rather than toiling away and becoming more and more discouraged, simply move on. This will save you the frustration of not getting it, and perhaps when you return to the given topic later, it will make more sense.
- Have some fun! You’ve heard about what happens to Jack when it’s all work and no play, right? Well, save yourself from axe-murdering your French learning regimen by enjoying yourself. This means learning from content you like as well as using resources you enjoy.
Find apps that are engaging, play games that are fun and stick to topics that interest you. While you want to have a well-rounded vocabulary, there’s French content for virtually every subject and hobby.
So, How Long Does It Really Take to Learn French?
Asking this question is what led you to this post in the first place, didn’t it?
And I bet, somewhere along the way, you were intrigued by the idea that you could learn French in six months, weren’t you?
So, can you learn French in six months? Yes, you can.
But can you learn the entire French language and reach the level of a native speaker in six months?
That’s a very different answer.
There are a number of organizations that approximate how long it will take you to meet high levels of French. For example, the US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) estimates that it takes English speakers approximately 600 to 750 hours to learn French to a “professional working proficiency” level. The level of “professional working proficiency” is loosely defined, and in theory, you could reach 750 hours of French study in six months if you studied approximately 29 hours a week.
Other language proficiency organizations seem to be in agreement with this estimation. For example, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) pegs fluency at the C1 (advanced) level, meaning that the learner can use French with relative ease at work, school and in everyday life. They say that it takes a minimum of 800 hours of study to reach the C1 level.
The number of hours to reach C2 (near-native fluency) is not given. This is presumably because natives never stop learning about their own language, so learners will be in a constant state of learning even at high levels of French.
And in that lies the true answer to our question: Yes, you can reach a high level of French in six months (assuming you can study a minimum of 30 hours of French a week), but you won’t reach native fluency in that time.
In fact, you may never reach native fluency in French, and that’s okay. Why?
Native fluency would mean that you’ve lived your entire life in a French-speaking country speaking French with other native speakers. Since it’s impossible for you to build a time machine and restart your life as a French speaker, you don’t have to aim for native-level fluency.
Instead, you can aim for functional, high-intermediate to advanced French, which you can reach in less than 30 hours a week. This will allow you to hold meaningful conversations in French as well as understand much of what you read and hear.
That’s a more manageable goal, and it’s possible to reach it within six months with some dedication and hard work!
How to Prepare to Learn French in Just 6 Months
To learn French in a short timeframe, you’ll need a strategy. Simply diving into any old textbook won’t give you the direction and motivation you need to achieve your goal.
Here are some key steps you can take to prepare to learn French in six months successfully:
- Establish your learning goal. Before you embark on your French-learning adventure, ask yourself, “Why do I want to learn French in six months?” Establishing your goal will help you structure your six-month plan by highlighting what concepts and types of vocabulary you should spend your time on.
For example, if you’re learning French to break into the Francophone market or if you’re relocating to a French-speaking country for a job, you’d want to focus primarily on French business vocabulary.
Or perhaps you’re learning French to be able to communicate with in-laws or just survive a vacation without being a completely clueless tourist. In that case, you may be more interested in studying conversational French.
Knowing why you’re learning French will help you study more efficiently!
- Surround yourself with French material. With only six months to learn French, you’ll need to make the most of every minute. Create an immersive atmosphere so you can eat, live and breathe French.
While you’re at the gym or stuck in traffic, listen to French podcasts. When you have some time to kill, watch French TV series and films, even if you don’t completely get what’s going on right away. Downloading a dictionary and flashcard app will also be useful so you can look up or review words on the go. I’ll share some more specific resources in the steps below.
Another great way to create an immersive environment is to find a native French speaker to chat with regularly. Check out SharedLingo for some online French communication practice. If IRL interactions are more your style, look for a French conversation meetup in your area.
- Adopt an open mindset. When you’re learning a new language, you have to check your perfectionism and timidity at the gate. This is especially true when you’re trying to learn a language quickly and can’t afford learning blocks or plateaus. Instead, try to be curious, unabashed, adventurous and ask questions every chance you get.
An essential phrase to have in your French-learner’s arsenal is comment dit-on ___ en Français ? (How do you say ___ in French?).
Qu’est-ce que c’est? (What is it?) and Je ne comprends pas (I don’t understand) will also come in handy.
You now have the tools to get the most French learning out of a short timeframe. Go forth and learn—these six months are going to fly by!
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