Your learning needs are as unique as your fingerprint.
So, what’s the best way to learn French?
A lot of language programs claim to know the answer.
There’s just one problem with that, though: they don’t know you.
When it comes to learning a language, you’re your own person.
You have strengths, weaknesses, preferred learning styles and a unique personality that all need to be taken into account.
In addition, it’s vital to take a variety of approaches to learning French in order to exercise all four of your basic French muscle groups.
“A foreign language is a castle. It is advisable to besiege it from all directions.”
This quote, from famous polyglot Kató Lomb, speaks to a serious issue in language learning. You can’t just focus on speaking and listening and ignore reading and writing.
So not only is there no one perfect method for learning French, there’s no perfect program either. Everyone benefits from their own individual combination of methods.
Figuring out what combination works best for you may be a tough process. But we’re here to help with some shortcuts, and to make the process fun as well!
4 Customized Plans to Self-teach French Based on Your Unique Learning Style
Any attempt to generalize when it comes to learning styles is going to be somewhat flawed, but getting a ballpark idea of your French study needs can help get you on the right track.
4 Most Common French Learning Styles
Here we have four common French learning personality types. You probably fall into at least one of these categories. You might fall into more than one, but you should first try to see if you can figure out which fits you the best!
The Social Butterfly
Unlike a lot of your peers, you have no problem jumping into conversations. But you do have a short attention span with books and a hard time settling down to learn the finer points of grammar. Because of this, your French conversation may suffer–perhaps without you realizing it–and your vocabulary may remain limited.
Strengths: confident speech and good pronunciation, willing to engage in French conversation.
Needs to work on: French grammar and spelling, vocabulary.
The Classroom Learner
You’ve always enjoyed school, so learning anything without a teacher makes you feel uncertain and insecure. Maybe you’re looking for ways to supplement your learning outside the classroom, or maybe it’s just not practical for you to take a French class right now, so you need to look elsewhere. Either way, your biggest challenge is going to be taking charge of your own French learning.
Strengths: taking criticism and learning from mistakes, following instructions.
Needs to work on: managing time, learning French alone with confidence.
The French Dreamer
You’re in love with French, France, and all things French. But you have a hard time concentrating on the technical side of the language or the realities of everyday French conversation. Maybe you’re afraid that delving into French usage will somehow ruin the romance. But if you can put this fear aside, you might just find that a greater knowledge of the language will only deepen your love for it.
Strengths: deep and abiding interest in French language, knowledge of French culture.
Needs to work on: self-discipline, concentration.
The Information Sponge
Like the French Dreamer, you’re in love with the language, but you appreciate the structure of it more than you do its aesthetic value. You could be described as a French language geek. You take pleasure in storing up knowledge to work toward an end goal, but when you’re reminded of how fickle and changeable spoken French can be–with its weird pockets of slang, varying native accents and constantly evolving vocabulary–you find yourself getting discouraged.
Strengths: memorization, self-discipline, French spelling and grammar.
Needs to work on: understanding spoken, real-world French, pronunciation and conversation.
The 4 Plans: Methods and Resources Based on Your Unique Needs
Okay, so the idea here is to improve your French in the areas that need it, while at the same time not taking you too far out of your comfort zone or away from the things you enjoy. Read on to see what techniques can help you pull ahead!
For each learning style, we’ve provided a comprehensive study plan with three major language learning methods to integrate into your study routine.
1. The Social Butterfly
a. Watching Movies with French Subtitles (Spelling and Grammar in Action!)
Due to your sociable nature, your spoken French might advance faster than your reading and writing skills, leaving you open to numerous grammar and spelling pitfalls.The silent -ent in the third person present plural of regular -er verbs might lead you to think they’re conjugated the same as the singular, for example, or you might confuse past participles with infinitives.
One way to prevent such missteps is to watch movies in French with French subtitles. This way, it’s all spelled out for you, so to speak. Plus, you’re still playing to your strong suit–listening to people speak. To expose yourself to as many video clips and subtitles as possible, check out FluentU.
Simply choose videos that work with your learning style, French level and personal interests, and we’ll recommend more for you.
It’s a great way to figure out what kinds of French language videos help you learn best! Plus, FluentU provides plenty of ways to actively practice your French vocabulary and grammar, like interactive subtitles, flashcards, vocabulary lists and more. You can experience it all for yourself with a free FluentU trial.
b. Magazines, Magazines and More Magazines (The Painless Textbook Alternative)
If you start feeling sleepy as soon as you open a book, try French magazines! You can find a wide variety of French magazines online, so there’s no shortage of fashion, art, political or leisure subjects to choose from. And if you’re not the magazine type, there are always French newspapers and comic books. Reading, no matter what form it takes, is essential for building vocabulary and internalizing the language’s structure.
c. Pen Pals (Staying Connected, Being Corrected)
Because you enjoy conversation, a language exchange partner will be a valuable asset to you. Just make sure that you’re letting them help with your written French, too. If an email exchange seems boring, try using the messenger function on Skype simultaneously with voice chat. Let your partner speak and type your response to them. Then let them correct any errors you might have made.
The Classroom Learner
a. Flashcards (A Classic Because It Works)
Making your own flashcards is one of the most basic self-teaching methods, if not the most basic. You’re probably somewhat comfortable with flashcards already, as it’s a method of which most French teachers are highly in favor. Getting deeper into flashcards as well as related vocab-building techniques is a great way to expand your self-teaching capabilities.
Looking for something that goes a few steps farther than flashcards? FluentU brings flashcards to life. The site’s “learn mode” actually integrates pictures, video clips and example sentences into its personalized flashcards, making for truly memorable in-context learning experiences. Not to mention, the flashcard sets are all based on videos you’ve been watching on the site!
b. Tests and Quizzes with Answer Keys (Learn to Self-Prescribe)
Using tests and quizzes on your own takes classroom learning out of the classroom and away from the anxiety of grades. You can find quizzes along with videos online (like on FluentU!), and use textbooks with answer keys to test your knowledge of French grammar, spelling and word choice. Using any material that’s broken into sections will help you maintain discipline and structure without a teacher.
c. Language Exchange Partners (A Helping Hand When You Need It)
Having a language exchange partner can be the perfect middle ground between learning in the classroom and learning entirely on your own. They won’t be there for you all the time (nor should you expect them to be!), but you can always jot down any questions you might have to ask them later, feeling assured that you’re not left to fend entirely for yourself.
The French Dreamer
a. Audio or Video with Transcripts (Making and Keeping It Real)
Watching French videos is one of the fastest ways to jolt yourself back to reality, in a good way.
You’ll probably be most comfortable appreciating all aspects of the language, though, so studying a transcript during or after your video viewing will help you better absorb what you’ve learned. To keep yourself engaged, make sure you watch videos on subjects that interest you, like French history, culture, cuisine and more! You can find all kinds of videos along with transcripts on FluentU.
b. Transcribing Song Lyrics (Practical Romance)
This is a great method to keep the romance alive, while also bringing yourself down to Earth and getting some great French practice.
Listening to music is one of the best ways to learn French, and you may be better equipped than most to take advantage of this particular learning tool. You probably already have your favorite French singers, but try mixing your listening with some discipline.
Transcribe lyrics while a song is playing, then check to see if you’ve gotten them right. This technique combines spontaneity with structure, allowing you to appreciate the beauty of both.
c. Regular Reading (Commit to Adventure)
Reading is likely to be a crucial part of your journey to fluency. Committing to longer narratives in French will help build your vocabulary and keep you interacting with the language in a meaningful way, engaging your emotions and your intellect. Remember that reading in French will put you in close contact with the culture you love. That said, it never hurts to seek out mysteries, thrillers or books with some motivating element to keep you reading to the end.
You can also benefit from seeking out some of your favorites in audiobook format.
The Information Sponge
a. Podcasts and Videos for Learning French (Structured Listening)
You’re the type that craves both control and structure. Using podcasts and video lessons will give you a little of both while still preparing you for actual French conversation. Because these types of lessons are constructed to cover specific points, you won’t panic at being in entirely unfamiliar waters, but you’ll also have to contend with the language as it’s spoken.
To get the best of both podcast and video learning, try FrenchPod101 by Innovative Language. They currently offer over 1,100 video and audio lessons, complete with transcripts and interactive learning tools. Since the site is designed to teach French, they know how to avoid overwhelming you—they’ll give you all the authentic French you need while still making it approachable.
b. French Talk Radio (Just Sit Back and Enjoy!)
Once you’ve gotten used to the idea of not always being 100% in control of your learning, it might be time to jump into listening to some French talk radio. Listening to unscripted or loosely scripted audio is a good place to start easing yourself toward natural conversation.
c. Video with Transcripts (Mix Business and Pleasure)
Using video and transcripts, which you can find together on FluentU, mixes native audio with much-needed answers and explanations. Since you appreciate how things work, you can benefit from approaching the French language like one big puzzle to be put together.
A fun way to do this is with dictation exercises. By writing down the words you hear and checking them against the transcripts, you can work with the language both as a whole and in specific contexts.
Fine-tuning Your Approach (Further Customization as Needed)
Figuring out exactly which study methods work for you, and in what amounts, may take a lot of work. But you can rest assured that the time you spend figuring out your learning process isn’t wasted–that’s part of the learning process itself.
Learning French isn’t just about cramming info, it’s about finding out who you are and learning to exist in another language. It’s worth taking the time to find out what the most beneficial way is for you to learn.
Doing so won’t only speed up the process of learning French, it’ll make it more enjoyable along the way.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.