Learning French is one of the most difficult parts of living in France. Beyond learning the literal words and grammar, there’s the finesse and unspoken rules that come with learning a language as well. It can be overwhelming just thinking about it!
Right when you think you’ve conquered a particular subject, more unknowns pop up that can leave you feeling like you’ll never be done learning, but don’t despair. It’s easy to get down about how far you still have to go despite how far you’ve come, but even if you don’t realize it, you are making progress.
No matter where you are on the French language learning spectrum, use my tips to help you come across as self-assured in any situation even if you feel nervous and overwhelmed on the inside.
Simple tips to help you feel less nervous about speaking French
When it comes to speaking French, remember that you don’t need to impress anyone or compare yourself to others. Your best effort and where you are now is good enough.Click To Tweet
When it comes to speaking French, remember that you don’t need to impress anyone or compare yourself to others. Your best effort and where you are now is good enough. Everyone starts from somewhere and has different goals, learning styles, and motivations for learning French and living in France. So you do you, ok? I can’t stress that enough. Comparing ourselves to others rarely helps anything.
As a beginner, it’s tough. I know. If you live in a French-speaking country, you’ll need to be able to communicate in French and it’s a long road. When your level prevents you from interacting in French society, it is important to get to a place where you feel relatively confident about your ability.
When I first arrived in France (and for a while after), I felt anything but. Nothing sent my head spinning like being thrown into real French life. I felt like everyone was secretly judging me for being different in small-town France and I knew I needed to get my French up to speed to be taken seriously. The truth is that no one was really judging me at all but I put the pressure on myself to improve.
So what did I do? I worked at it, but I did it on my own terms and started small and manageable. Even if I could barely understand French spoken in real time, I did what I could within my control, so that’s what I’m sharing with you in this post.
Over the years, I’ve used the following tips to help make my French communication go a little more smoothly. Even though these tips are great for beginners and super simple, they shouldn’t be overlooked.
The best tips are often the simplest ones and those are the first to go out the window when we’re nervous and stressed. Would you believe that I still use all of the tips below today… nearly 7 years after moving to France!The best #languagelearning tips are often the simplest ones and those are the first to go out the window when we're nervous and stressed. Here are my top tips!Click To Tweet
What’s surprised me most about my life in France?
Go in person if you can
If your French is a little shaky, it’s much easier to talk to someone in person instead of over the phone. You can see their face and body language and use the context of the situation to your advantage. If you have the time and are able to, take care of any business in person.
You’ll feel more confident and might even make an ally in the process. For customer service issues or anything dealing with the bureaucracy, it’s best to have people on your side, so why not put a face to a name.
Even today, I still find it easier to get something done in person when you have someone in front of you and not just a faceless voice on the other end of the phone.
I’ve mentioned this one before. I always try to project my voice and speak with confidence (even if it seems loud). Yes, people hear my accent right away but they also see that I’m not a meek little foreigner afraid to assert herself. By speaking up, the person hears you the first time and you come across like a boss.
There’s nothing worse than speaking quietly when you have an accent. People might already have to pay attention a little more when you speak (sad but true), so don’t give them any reason to make you repeat yourself. Speak up the first time!
This is especially important when you need to speak loudly over a line of people in a crowded, noisy place like the boulangerie. They’re not expecting an accent so make sure they hear you!
Frustrations of living in another language >>
Use simple language
Even if you want to bust out that new expression you learned, make sure you save it for the right situation. In situations with new people where I’m not feeling 100%, I stick to simple words and phrasing.
Using simple language that you know is correct and that you’re pronouncing correctly is the best way to get your point across without confusion. I find that using simple language is often better in most cases, especially when you’re a beginner and already a little nervous.
If comprehension isn’t your strong suit, people often mirror that language back to you and respond with simple language.
I’m not a fake-smile kind of person, but oh, how moving to a foreign country can change you! Kind of. Hear me out. The French aren’t as smiley as Americans but I find that a friendly smile can break the ice and leave a good first impression. When people like you, they’re more willing to help and more forgiving of your mistakes.
There’s no need to be over the top about it or fake, but a warm smile goes a long way. Even if your French is far from perfect, a smile helps people to lower their defenses even if the words aren’t coming out exactly as you’d like. It’s pleasant. And people like pleasant people, so be one.
They’ll remember the smile and not the mistakes you made. But don’t force it because that will backfire.There's no need to be over the top about it or fake, but a warm smile goes a long way when you're struggling in a foreign #language (plus my other simple tips to help you feel more confident)Click To Tweet
Take a break
Start where you are. Do what you’re comfortable with. Baby steps. And when you feel like you’re getting overwhelmed, there’s no shame in taking a break. When you’ve had enough, take a timeout. Really. It can do wonders for your mental health.
Maybe a break means physically removing yourself from a conversation by leaving a party early or just getting some air. Maybe it means letting your French grammar book collect some dust for a week. Or making more of an effort to socialize with English-speaking friends for a while. Or spending some time working on a project that has nothing to do with French.
Whatever it is, there’s no shame in taking a break of any length to clear your head and press reset. French will still be there when you’re ready to come back…When you've had enough of #languagelearning, take a timeout. Really. It can do wonders for your mental health. (plus my other simple tips for what to do when you're feeling nervous about speaking #French)Click To Tweet
What simple tips have helped you to feel more confident in a foreign language? If you’re out here struggling, hang in there. Things get easier with time, so keep at it. I’m on your side! 😉
P.S. I’ve rebooted my YouTube channel where I talk about French language, culture, and what it’s like as a foreigner abroad, so go check it out and please don’t forget to subscribe!
Re: Simple Tips to feel less nervous Speaking French
I love your suggestions. All of them have helped me as I applied them. Especially doing things in person. This makes a huge difference for me.
In my personal experience, a couple others that have helped me:
With someone new I always start my conversations with: «Bonjour/Bonsoir,
Je suis désolée. Je parle/comprend un peu le français.» And 99.99% of the time I will get a very kind response from the person to whom I am chatting – something like « pas problème » or « ça va, je ne parle qu’un petit anglais » This sets their expectation bar low and now, whatever I do know use in conversation will be a nice surprise!
If they respond that they speak only a little English, I will sometimes say « comme moi avec français« and, as you suggest, smile.
I may be fooling myself but this seems to set a tone of « convivialité ». So even if it just relaxes me, that in itself is helpful.
If the struggle was real during the conversation, I always express gratitude « merci pour votre gentillesse / patience ». And, I am always met with a version « avec plaisir » and often a compliment to my so called skill. I interpret this as encouragement rather than a true compliment, to keep me from giving up. But it adds joy the encounter and I delight in the praise like a second grader receiving a high mark on a quiz.
Hope these are useful additions.
Very useful additions! Thank you, Renée! The bonjour is always super important and like you said, it sets the tone for a more relaxed, respectful interaction.
I’ll add one tip: don’t take it personally if, when you suddenly speak French, people don’t understand or ask you to repeat. It’s probably because they weren’t expecting you to speak French and their brain didn’t adjust! It happens to me all the time. Let’s say my husband says something in French, even if the sentence is perfectly correct, I’d be like “what? What did you say?” just because he never speaks French. And if I say something in Mandarin to a Chinese person, they will make me repeat because they don’t expect a Western to speak Mandarin!
So really, 99% of the time, they’re nothing wrong with *you”*. Be confident, say it again!
Absolutely, most of time, the reason has nothing to do with us but it’s so easy to have tunnel vision when WE are self-conscious and assume we’re the problem. And speaking up helps!
Jo-Anne the crazy lady says
I have never learnt another language so I think those who speak more then one language are amazing
Thanks! We all start from somewhere 😉
I felt like you were speaking to me! (well, besides the French part, but I love that this post can be applicable to learning almost any language) For me, confidence is the biggest hurdle. Some of these tips are so helpful – fantastic post, lady! :))
Daniel Nantes says
Your french is very good.
I love when north americans speak french, specialy from a bilingual country: