Do you know what true fear feels like?
The scariest moment for any beginning language learner is having to actually speak out loud.
You might feel like you’re at the Miss Universe Pageant and have 30 seconds to explain how to end a global conflict as a dizzying spotlight flashes over you.
You might break a sweat, forget everything you’ve learned and want to run in the opposite direction.
For most people, the hardest part of learning a new language is speaking. Aside from the stress, it requires you to pull from your whole bank of vocabulary and grammar knowledge to build your own sentences. Then, of course, you need to actually understand the people you’re speaking to so that you can respond.
But we don’t mean to send you hiding under your covers.
With the right resources and study plan, the fear of spoken French will actually disappear.
We’ll show you three steps to build your spoken communication skills and put them to use, even when you’re still at the beginning stages of French learning.
We Need to Talk: 3 Steps for Beginners to Learn Spoken French
Step 1: Learn Basic French Phrases with Apps and Videos
Nobody wants to break the bank during their noble quest for language domination. Using apps and videos is an affordable way to quickly build your stockpile of essential French phrases. And since these resources generally include written and audio lessons or examples, you’ll efficiently learn the meaning, usage rules and pronunciation of the phrases for spoken communication.
This YouTube channel breaks down common expressions related to a variety of themes, from dining to everyday banter. There’s often both a man and woman saying the phrases, so you get a sense of how words sound with different voices and inflections.
The dialogue comes with English translations, making it easier for beginners to grasp new vocabulary. You’ll also watch the presenters say each French phrase and can try to imitate their mouth movements for perfect pronunciation.
FluentU is a fun tool to learn spoken French like a native speaker uses it, even from the very beginning. FluentU provides real-world French videos, like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks and more, that’ve been transformed into a language learning experience.
Each video comes with interactive captions—just click any word for an instant definition, translation, visual learning aids and a native pronunciation. There are also flashcards and exercises for each video that help you remember new words and phrases when you’re done watching.
I’d recommend pausing the videos and mimicking the speakers’ pronunciation as you watch. This combination of emulating speech and expanding your vocabulary will prepare you for authentic French conversations, all while keeping you entertained.
The videos are organized by genre and learning level, so it’s easy to find something that works for you. Better yet, FluentU suggests new videos based on what you’ve already watched, for a truly personalized learning experience.
If you’re a movie buff, UniFrance is a dream come true. This channel has a wide range of subtitled French movie trailers, many of which are perfect for beginners because they don’t have too much dialogue. If you have difficulty understanding, you could always just replay, rinse and repeat as often as you want.
I really like this channel because it gives good examples of natural, fluid conversations, but in digestible segments and within a set context. You’ll also get a glimpse into French culture, humor and food, important topics for aspiring French learners, and it’s a good precursor for watching full French movies.
Step 2: Start Having Real Conversations
Wait, already? What if I’m still a beginner?
The sooner you start applying your speaking skills in French, the better. But that doesn’t mean you have to dive immediately into a complex French debate. The resources below will help you build even rudimentary speaking skills towards a full-fledged French conversation.
This website offers French teaching services via Skype. You pick a vetted tutor based on your availability and have private lessons that are customized to your preferences.
I like My Lingo Trip because you choose your language level prior to registering for classes, so expectations are clear from the onset. The prices are also generally cheaper than other websites: 20 beginner lessons cost 13€ (approximately $16 USD).
Since all the lessons are tailored to your desired outcomes, you can choose to speak freely instead of learning through a rigid lesson plan.
Verbling offers affordable spoken French lessons from a wide range of qualified French tutors, with an emphasis on conversation-centric learning. Verbling is designed to set you up with the perfect tutor for conversational lessons adapted to your schedule and study goals.
You can browse a list of French tutor profiles to find your language soulmate—all profiles describe the tutor’s educational credentials, work experience, schedule openings, pricing packages and reviews from other students. You’ll also see which tutors offer a free trial lesson (a lot of them do!).
Verbling lessons aren’t conducted over a plain old webcam. They have a virtual classroom-style interface where you can share notes, upload assignments, use flashcards and more. Check out more Verbling features and tutor profiles here.
A language exchange generally won’t be as structured as tutoring, but it’s free! Almost every major or medium-sized city has clusters of French-speaking students who you can meet through Facebook groups or Meetup, a website that helps you find people with common interests in your city. You can then set up French-English conversations, so you both get to practice your language skills.
Of course, there are always online language exchange platforms as well, so you can set up virtual conversations with partners in France or other French-speaking regions. Or you could just look for a Tinder date who’s fluent in French…
Step 3: Commit to Spoken French Practice Every Day
French learners sometimes struggle with maintaining their momentum because they lose the time, energy or interest to keep their skills up every day. To avoid this, try out some French learning apps that you can conveniently shuffle into your daily routine, even when you’re in the middle of a busy week.
These particular apps target spoken French skills specifically, and also make practice fun so you actually want to keep at it!
Anything that reminds me of food is a winner in my book. This app is perfect for listening and speaking because it uses audio clips of native speakers to help you with pronunciation, while the interactive games are designed to improve your conversation skills and vocabulary.
Remembering words’ genders is one of the hardest parts of learning French and it sometimes leads to incoherence, but MindSnacks’ games address this issue, as well as verb conjugation and other common obstacles. You’ll memorize new words and improve your listening skills simultaneously.
You don’t need to worry about getting hungry while using the app, because most of the games don’t actually relate to food.
If you find yourself losing motivation, which is completely natural, Busuu will put you back on track: this app is meant to be used when you have a brief moment to spare to learn a tidbit of French. This is a great way to enhance your vocabulary.
Better yet, Busuu’s Vocabulary Trainer will prepare you to actually use your vocabulary in French conversations. It tests how well you’ve remembered the phrases you’ve already seen during your lessons.
To apply your talking skills, use the Conversations tool to record yourself saying something for up to 30 seconds, then send it to the Busuu community for corrections. You can in turn respond with a recording and you’ll get to keep the thread of your discussion.
And there it is, my language beginners. Just take solace in the fact that, at some point, we all started at the beginning, and even the most advanced speaker was once a fledgling beginner. With the help of modern technology and a small dose of motivation, you’ll be ready for a full-on debate in the middle of rural France… or at least ready to answer “Where are you from?” without taking two minutes to dredge up an answer.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.