Is it possible to teach yourself French?
It’s not just achievable…
…it’s actually one of the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn.
English and French share many similarities – for example, English has stolen and adapted many French words.
Teaching yourself has its challenges, but also many advantages. Rather than going to a class or finding a tutor, teaching yourself frees you to go at your own pace and make the most of your own learning style.
While you’ll have to put some work into finding good resources, there are lots out there. For example, there are wonderful YouTube channels for learning French, terrific French podcasts, and French learning blogs.
The major challenge you’re likely to face while doing self-learning for French is making yourself study regularly. With a language, repetition and regularity are vital. You could do a huge session once a week, but if you leave off until the next week, much of it will be forgotten. However, if you study a little each day and review as you go, you’ll easily remember and retain what you cover.
Why teach yourself French?
It’s important to know your reasons, so that when you have a lousy day, you can remind yourself of why you’re doing this.
To start with, French is super sexy. Its culture is so infused with romance that it’s no wonder people love a little French.
More practically, speaking French makes travel easier and more enjoyable, since many countries all around the world have French as a national language. Whether you’re heading to Europe, North America, Africa or almost any other part of the globe, having French will help you communicate with locals, learn the best places to go, and experience more of the culture than you could otherwise.
In your everyday life, it’s simply fun and satisfying to be able to read things that you once couldn’t, and to watch those French movies without subtitles.
The 10 tips for teaching yourself French
#1 Baby Steps
Starting a language from scratch is akin to a child’s learning, and there are many materials to make language learning fun and easy for kids that you can use yourself. Find some kids’ books to begin reading alongside the textbooks you’re using. Kids’ books are good fun and will give you that satisfaction of being able to tackle and understand a whole book – even if it was half pictures. It will help you slowly develop your vocabulary, starting off with common and useful words from which to build.
And as children from multilingual backgrounds learn their languages through listening, make a point of listening to as much French as possible. The more you immerse yourself, the faster you’ll be ordering wine in France like a local.
#2 Get Mixing
The more French you fit into the day, the better. Do a little writing each day using the French vocabulary you’ve been learning; when you don’t know a word, just use English. It’s quite fun, and you don’t have to worry about sentence structure if you haven’t learnt it yet; the aim is to get comfortable using all your new words.
Also start using French when you speak with friends. Get them involved, because explaining your new favourite words will help consolidate your learning.
Or, if your friends aren’t interested, just speak to yourself! When you see an object you have learnt the word for, point it out to yourself, or greet the cat en français.
#3 Learn French with Songs and Music
There’s a whole world of your favourite music genre waiting to be discovered in French. No matter what you enjoy listening to, there will be a French version. At first you can just enjoy the sounds, but soon you’ll start recognizing words and wanting to look up lyrics. It’s a fun way to approach French, and gives you some listening time to balance out the book work.
Looking for music videos with both French and English subtitles? FluentU’s got your back.
All videos are equipped with bilingual subtitles, making it easier for you to sing along with your new favourite French tunes.
Though we often try to learn using only written text, many of us learn best using pictures. Whether it’s your preferred way of learning or something new, adding visuals to your arsenal is a great idea.
A great way to do this is to use flashcards. You can buy packs of blank flashcards from any stationary store, then create your own French Visuals kit. If you’re any good at drawing you’re in luck. If not, find some old kids’ books or encyclopaedias (charity shops are a great place to find these) to cut pictures from, or find pictures online to print out and stick onto your flashcards. Then write the French name for the image on the other side of the card. Now you can test yourself by looking at the picture and saying its French name, or by looking at the French side and giving its English equivalent.
#5 Verbs Are Your Friends
The sooner you like verbs, the happier you’ll be learning French. Since there are only 3 kinds of verb endings, once you know them, you’re set to use any verb in the right context. Some of the most common verbs have irregular endings, so though you’ll have to learn those individually, but there aren’t many of these. Most verbs, once you know their endings, all behave themselves and follow the rules.
#6 Mistakes Are Okay
The first few times you try to speak French, you’ll probably get it wrong. And that’s okay! The more you try to speak it, the less you’ll worry about making mistakes – they’re going to happen, so let them and learn from them. It’s often a great learning experience, since once you’ve mucked something up and been corrected, you’re more likely to remember the correct version.
When learning any new skill, letting yourself make mistakes is a must from the beginning all the way to mastery. Be kind to yourself, because as you advance to more difficult sentence structures and vocabulary, you’ll still have the chance to make mistakes.
In fact, making mistakes is a great sign, because it means you’re challenging yourself. If you’re getting everything right, then you’re not progressing.
#7 Make Your Own Mix-Tapes
A great way to learn and consolidate new vocabulary is to record yourself reading vocabulary lists then listen to them while you walk or travel or even do the dishes.
You can make your lists however you like, with hints to help you remember tough words, or reminders about words that sound similar. This will also help you practice your pronunciation!
#8 A Movie a Day
The French love their movies, so a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the culture and language is to learn French with movies. If you don’t like avant garde (oh, a French term!) or art house movies to begin with, you’re sure to appreciate them soon.
If you can’t fit in time to watch a whole movie, watch the news in French. It’s fun at the beginning to piece together the news stories from the images, then satisfying as you begin recognizing common phrases and words.
#9 French Connection
Though the days of writing letters by hand may be over, a pen pal (or perhaps email pal) is still a great idea for people learning a language.
There are lots of ways you could find a pen pal. The internet is of course your friend here. You could go on forums for language learning, or you could email French interest groups to see if anyone would like a writing companion from across the globe. That is, of course, if your initial search for “find pen pals” is not successful. There are also many French learning associations that could put you in touch with people.
#10 Eat Croissants
No matter where you live, there’s likely to be a French bakery or restaurant nearby. Start visiting it, and reading the menu, then when you’re feeling a little more confident (and have learnt the basic greetings) try them on the waiters or bakery assistants (as long as they’re actually French!). No doubt they’ll be flattered that you’re taking an interest in their language, and might even offer you a few tips themselves.
Plus, French baking is delicious! It will give you all the more motivation to learn the language before setting off for the authentic experience.
Other Fantastic Resources for Learning French By Yourself
Here are a few outstanding blogs to help you learn French on your own:
French Together: an outstanding and beautifully designed site with lots of helpful posts on useful French vocabulary and culture.
FrenchCrazy: a wonderful site that is filled to the brim with useful resources and posts. For example, the top posts range from French pronunciation to French dining establishments and French geography. A great place to get your bearings on everything French!
Oui, c’est ça!: a marvelous blog for French learners. There are a lot of useful posts on French vocabulary which you probably should know but don’t. Also, many helpful posts on culture, as well as song recommendations with lyrics. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
And one more thing...
If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
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 learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally 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.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.