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, we’ll show you how to get in the right mindset for quick success with French learning, plus six tips for a strategic, efficient study plan you can use in just half a year.
Walk with me and no matter where you are in six months, you’ll be there with some amazing French skills.
How to Prepare to Learn French in Just Six 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.
- 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.
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 meet up 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 be handy.
6 Efficient Study Strategies to Learn French in 6 Months
1. Focus on Core French Vocabulary
To build your French vocabulary quickly and strategically, it’s important to focus on the most frequently used French words.
But… how will you know which words those are? Fortunately, there are several resources that can help:
- Check out this list of the 2,000 most common French words.
- The book “501 French Verbs” is also a great resource to have kickin’ around.
- It’s a good idea to have some common French phrases in your arsenal to make conversing feel less stressful. On top of that, you’ll automatically sound more fluent: a win-win scenario. Check out these 25 essential phrases for beginners along with these 10 simple sentences to get started with basic conversation.
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, 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).
2. 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, it’ll also help you form good habits when it comes to pronunciation and accent.
So what are some good places to find authentic French content?
FluentU is a handy option that not only offers real French videos, but also supercharges them with language learning tools. You’ll get authentic videos like movie trailers, news clips, inspiring talks and more, plus interactive captions for in-context definitions and example sentences. In other words, you can actively build your vocabulary while absorbing French the way native speakers use it.
After watching a video, you can explore FluentU’s innovative “Learn Mode,” which uses games, exercises and flashcards to help you retain what you learned from the video. FluentU also keeps track of what you’ve watched and suggests additional content based on that info, providing a truly personalized learning experience.
3. Listen/Read for “the Gist”
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.
Not only is this an immersive learning practice that’ll quickly boost your comprehension skills, it’s also a more effective way to build your French vocabulary than memorizing words in isolation.
4. Use Mnemonic Devices
As much effort as you put into creating an immersive French environment and devouring authentic French content, 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.
5. Incorporate French “Tics” into Your Speech
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 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.
6. Commit to Consistency
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. 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.
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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