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
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!
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! 😉