It’s 4 AM and you’ve gotten the sudden travel itch to leave it all behind for a chalet in the French countryside. The only problem: you don’t speak a word of French – save for baguette, croissant and oui. Combing through language learning blogs leaves you feeling frustrated and hopeless in the moment, but with a little direction and avoidance of some key mistakes, getting fluent in French can become second nature.
Reading before listening will keep you from getting fluent in French
One of the most common mistakes of learning any new language is that people often immediately turn to books or find online resources and dive right into memorizing and conjugating verbs without ever hearing the language. Always listen first, whether that be watching a tv show, finding a podcast or watching videos on youtube. Audibly receiving speech information speeds up one’s ability to retain and promote language development. Pronunciation, intonation and tonal cues cannot be learned in a textbook. One wrong pronunciation and instead of saying “Les cheveux est noir (The hair is black)”, you end up saying “Les chevaux est noir (The horses are black)”, which steers your conversation in a whole new – and confusing – direction, and not to mention changes your subject-verb agreement. Listening and grasping the sounds of the language is a major key in mastering it.
Paying too much attention to the details will keep you from getting fluent in French
When you were a child, you did not worry about if you said the right le or il or any other article. That’s why children learn so well (that, and hundreds of hours of extra free time!). They don’t care about mistakes. They are not afraid of them, because they haven’t been taught that people will find you stupid or that you should be embarrassed for ‘messing up’ when you speak.
I see new students studying little exceptions to the rule when it comes to grammar rules and learning the tiny grammar mistakes that simply do not matter in the big picture of getting TRULY fluent. Not ‘I know lots of grammar rules’ type of fluent. But ‘hey, look at me speaking in French for hours and hours, making friends, getting a job, watching TV’ kind of speaking French!
So, do you want to brag about knowing an obscure grammar rule or you do want to be fluent in French?
Memorizing what is masculine and feminine (as if it really matters at first) will keep you from getting fluent in French
Stop making flashcards to learn what is masculine and feminine. Eventually, you won’t have to think about this at all, if you get fluent in French the right way. If you acquire the language through conversations, comprehensible learning classes, The Bellieu Method, add in TV, reading a little, but mostly conversation, then you don’t really need to learn. You just mimic and repeat what the native speakers say. Your ears will eventually ‘hear’ what sounds right, just like you know what sounds right in English. If I say, “He am a boy.” you can FEEL that this sounds wrong, because you’ve heard the CORRECT verb usage a million times.
The same thing will start to happen with your second language if you acquire it as opposed to memorize it. What you memorize goes in one ear and out the other. Memorize is what you do for a test (right before you forget it all within 2 weeks). We’re getting fluent here.
Falling for les faux amis or false cognates will keep you from getting fluent in French
False cognates, or les faux amis, are words or phrases that look alike but have different meanings in another language. TIP: If you learn through listening more, you will not mix them up as much, as they do not sound similar when spoken. But they do look similar on the page.
These get the best of everyone in any language and being able to spot them early on will help you be all the more successful as time goes on in your language journey. Sometimes it really is that easy – bank does translate to banque in French and the pronunciation is uncanny. However, a simple example is the French’s collegé is equivalent to the US’s junior high, and the US’s college is universitaire. A commode in English translates to the French adjective commode meaning practical. Les faux amis, which means literally to the fake friends, are indeed not your friends and can make for some very interesting dinner conversations. Be sure to check yourself – and then double-check – to avoid falling into this trap.
Reading in order to get a Kick *ss French Accent will keep you from getting fluent in French
This is like playing tennis to learn how to swim. It makes no sense. IF you’re on the treadmill, put French in your ears. If you’re making dinner, throw on a French podcast and get French in your ears. If you’re taking a walk and it’s not dangerous, put French in at least one of your ears.
The more you hear it, the more you will know how it is supposed to sound. Don’t guess at pronunciation. That is why we have very strong accents. Listen from day one.
Learning Vocabulary Out of Context will keep you from getting fluent in french
Again with the flashcards?! What am I going to do with you?
Those learners that make flashcards often use the words in the wrong way. Of course, if you’re learning basic things like swim and walk, sure, maybe flashcards are okay-ish. But they don’t tell you a story. Flashcards don’t paint a picture (unless you painted a picture on the back).
And many words just do not translate well, so if you learn them in correctly and out of context, it will be hard to break the habit. Make sure to watch and listen to many situations in French, like on the TV, commercials, music videos, and more IN CONTEXT learning situations.
Getting Impatient will keep you from getting fluent in french
Perhaps the biggest mistake of all – for any language – is not giving yourself enough time. Learning a language doesn’t happen overnight and is hardly a magical experience of waking up one day and being fluent (although you will have these huge leaps of understanding, like a light bulb going on. Just think of a kid and how kids seem just SUDDENLY to be able to speak! It’s because they’ve been listening for years…). It is a journey – a long one – that is full of wins along the way but also periods of dissatisfaction with yourself and your progress. Don’t give up on yourself and don’t give up on French!