If you’ve spent any time learning French, I know you’ll relate to what I have to say in this post. Language learning is no joke and you’ll have good days and bad. Sometimes you’ll feel you’re on top of the world like you’re making progress and other times you’ll want to crawl into a hole where you speak your mother tongue for the rest of your life. Learning French as an adult brings a flood of emotions along with it and I’ve experienced all of them. Over the years here on Oui In France, I’ve written a ton on French language learning, so let me give you my best tips from someone who’s been there.
Best French language learning tips
Since 2012, I’ve written a ton of posts on language learning ranging from info on the nuts and bolts of the language, to personal commentary on what it’s like to learn French as an adult, the mistakes I’ve made, the language struggles of day to day life in France, and so much more. There are a ton of links here so bookmark ’em so you don’t miss anything.
To recap, I moved to France in 2012 and had an intermediate level of French, at best. My written French and reading abilities were stronger than my speaking and comprehension skills at the time. Now the opposite is true!
In this post, I’ve rounded up all of my top French language learning posts into one place, so I hope you’ll learn something, feel like you can relate and are not alone in this, and maybe get a laugh. Keep in mind I always write from the perspective of an American learning French, but many of my tips are not French specific and can apply to learners of any language.
We all set out on our French language learning journey for different reasons. Maybe it’s for fun, or because you’re studying French in college, or because you’ll be vacation in France for a few weeks. Or maybe it’s because you’re moving to France for a job or love and you’ll need to know French to be able to communicate. Whatever the reason is, we all start from 0 and the only way to go is up. There’s no end date to learning French, and no there’s no shortcut to fluency, so settle in for the journey. It’s all about the long game. Putting in consistent effort day in and day out — like most things in life — will get you where you want to go (even if it doesn’t always feel like it in the moment).
Now, right off the bat, you’ll want to acknowledge that there are some French language basics that don’t exist in English and do your best to learn all the foundations of French. One of those is the formality of the French language and the different ways to say “you.” There’s the more familiar tu that you use with someone you know somewhat well (or a child) and the more polite version and plural form of you which is vous.
Even if you’re just traveling to France for a week or two and don’t plan on moving past the beginner level, it’s important to know some basic French travel phrases that’ll help you interact with the locals like a pro. No one expects tourists to speak French but some key words show you respect the culture and are making an effort — both of which are important. There’s nothing more cringe-worthy than seeing a foreigner walk right up to a cashier and launching into English without even an attempt at bonjour. Remember that you’re in France where they speak French, so please try to say the basics.
Speaking of respecting the culture, social politeness is super important in France. Before you start off any interaction, you’ll want to take note of these top 5 French words and phrases you need to fit in. All of my posts teaching you words/phrases have audio clips by the way, because what’s the point if you can’t hear the words?
Also, be aware that many French first names may be misleading for English speakers, so know which ones are male and female. Laurence is a woman and Jean is a man!
One of the trickiest sounds in French for English speakers is the French “r” sound and I made a whole video on how to say the French “r” that a bunch of people have found helpful. The second trickiest is probably the French “u” sound so here’s a video on that.
Once you’re a solid beginner, try not to translate from English to French unless absolutely necessary. With time as your vocabulary and fluidity grow, you’ll speak more naturally, internalize the words, and realize there’s no time to translate!
Do you notice that you’re getting complimented on your French less and less? That’s a good thing! It means you’re improving!
Once you’re ready to up your game a little, you can use my tips for making your French more natural. Don’t be afraid to throw in some of these classic French language sounds that will help you sound more like a native speaker. Little by little, you’ll get more comfortable with the syntax and sentence structure and pick up little language habits as you go.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to mess up. You have to make a ton of mistakes to improve. That’s a fact. When learning a language, we focus on all the wrong things. Like maybe focusing all our time on perfect pronunciation or useless vocabulary we’ll never use and never taking time to learn grammar. Or trying to expand our verb tenses before we have learned the basics. It’s like trying to run before you can even crawl.
I talk about simple mistakes I made in this post that I still laugh about today. It’s all part of the process…
Motivation & mindset
You know that saying that goes something like, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right?” Well, it’s true. Mindset counts for a lot. I talk about this simple secret I discovered back in my NJ French class that’ll help you to look like a pro even when you’re not. It’s simple but so important.
But look, I get how overwhelming language learning is especially when it’s out of necessity because you moved to France. It’s so difficult to feel on top of things when there’s always something new to learn. So many aspects of language learning can take our confidence down a few notches such as constantly making mistakes, someone’s rude comment, stressing about our accent, thinking our level isn’t high enough, and more. These experiences can take a confident person from a 10 to about a 5 just like that on the confidence scale.
But it’s hard to stay motivated and have a positive mindset if you feel like you’re always messing up and just not progressing fast enough. Confidence is something you’ll need when speaking French along with the motivation to carry you on your language learning journey. But it’s only normal for both your confidence and motivation to come and go. When your confidence is at an all-time low, here are some important things to remember if you want to speak French confidently: tomorrow is a new day, you’re doing better than you think, and that we’re in control of how we act and NOT how others react to us.
When you just can’t muster up the motivation to keep on keeping on with French, do your best to push through in the worst of times if you really truly want to make progress. Take a day or two or three off, but get back on the horse. Here’s how to find the motivation to do so. My best advice is to be consistent.
Need a quick dose of motivation? Read on. One of my favorite French-speaking celebrities who speaks French is American actor Bradley Cooper and watching him speak French is crazy motivating. It’s not the fact that he speaks French that’s impressive — lots of people speak a second language — it’s his confidence and charisma he exudes while doing so. He’s not fluent in French but he’s nailed it in the confidence department, has learned to speak naturally, and people don’t even notice his mistakes. Here’s what we can learn from Bradley Cooper speaking French.
When you’re having trouble
Remember that most people don’t speak a second language, so you’re already ahead of the game if you’re trying your best and putting in consistent effort. You’ll only improve with time even if it’s slow going at the moment. You’re badass. Remember that.
But I know how nervous I felt the first couple of years I lived in France. The first couple of months were rough and I came up with coping strategies for when I wanted to run away and cry. It was so frustrating feeling like I was 5 years old and always feeling dumb and behind. The worst was how incredibly hard it was for me to understand real-life conversations with actual French people in real time. Classroom learning full of reading and writing didn’t prepare me for actual interactions and I was so nervous and stressed whenever I had to make a phone call, speak in earshot of others, or do anything that was beyond a simple exchange. With time, it improved but don’t think something is wrong with you if your progress seems to stagnate for a while. Even if you don’t feel like you’re improving, you are but you don’t realize it in the moment. These are my top tips to feel less nervous speaking French.
Even once you feel you’ve mastered certain things, it’s only normal for French to still give you trouble. In the words of my favorite Peloton instructor Emma Lovewell, practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes progress — and that’s the goal here.
Something I neglected early on was focusing on oral comprehension. If you’re moving to France, focus your studies on comprehension and speaking practice to lessen the shock of being thrown into speaking French 100% of the time. Comprehension needs to be your focus but I know it’s scary. If you tend to freeze up and get nervous, one of my favorite tips is how to use the context of the situation to your advantage when you’re speaking French. Do everything in your power to get over you fear of speaking French. The sooner you’re able to get out of your head and just go for it, the better.
Don’t be afraid to let French people correct your mistakes. There’s no benefit to making the same mistakes over and over, so here’s how to encourage native speakers to help you out. Not everyone is going to be open or willing to help but let those who are know you’re open to it. Bad habits are much harder to correct when you’ve been doing them for years — completely unaware you’ve been making the same mistakes! A perfect example of a hilarious mistake I’d been making for years is this story about walking my dog. Why didn’t anyone correct me?! In the moment, it doesn’t always feel great to be corrected (especially when it seems like you aren’t getting anything right), but in the long run, it’s necessary.
On having an accent
I can’t say this enough, but having a foreign accent is not a defect. It doesn’t make you “less than” in any shape or form and is not something to fix. As long as you’re understood, an accent isn’t a problem although certain things tend to happen when you have an accent. Besides, if you started learning French after age 15, you’re going to have an accent. It’s normal. Embrace it! There are even some pluses to having an accent so use it to your advantage.
Once you move away from your home country and become the “other,” it’s only then that we begin to understand what it’s like to have an accent.
A little bit of fun
Learning isn’t complete unless there’s a little bit of fun! Make sure you’re making the learning process fun by doing activities in French that you enjoy. Now no, grammar isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea but it’s a necessary evil. Make time for work (stuff you hate) and play when learning.
What I mean is that if you enjoy watching movies or TV shows, do so in French whenever you can. If you enjoy reading the news or listening to podcasts, pick some French sites to spend time on each morning. If you enjoy reading beauty blogs, find some French beauty bloggers to add to your reading list. See what I mean? Yes, you’ll need to work on all the less fun parts and probably crack open a few books, but make sure you take time to learn the way you want to learn. Otherwise, your frustrations will take over and you’re less likely to be consistent and stick with it.
Then once you’ve made some progress, answer this for me: When speaking French, how do you pronounce English words that come up? With a French accent like a French person? Also, what about the opposite? When you’re speaking English and the French word croissant comes up, do you say it like an English speaker or a French one? What are the consequences? I made a whole video about it.
In French, there are a bunch of words you can shorten to sound more like a native speaker. Words like afternoon, veterinarian, computer, cinema, and so many more get clipped.
Something to take note of is the severity of swearing in French versus English. Not all curse words are created equal so be sure to know the weight of what you’re saying. But making embarrassing mistakes is part of the process and can even be kind of amusing in retrospect.
Here are a few quick French lessons:
- When you “invite” someone to a restaurant
- How to say “only” in French
- The difference between Provence and province
- French word pairs you don’t want to mix up
You might also notice a tricky little phenomenon when life in France starts messing with your English.
And on days when you just can’t anymore, maybe you can relate to this post on when the French language just makes you want to run and hide. 😉
Hope you enjoyed my French language learning tips!
Here’s all my best info on French culture!