Today’s post is a guest post from David Issokson, the creator of FrenchLearner.com where he helps students learn French via Skype.
David is a native speaker of English but he has dedicated his entire life to learning and mastering French to the point where he can speak with no accent. He has been offering classes to students from all over the world since December, 2013.
In this article he’ll share some suggestions for how to overcome challenges in learning French as well as some useful tips and tricks for more effective learning.
Note from Benjamin: many of David’s tips are based on the idea of learning with a teacher, but you can also benefit from these tips if you’re learning on your own.
The secret is that there’s no secret
For many years people have asked me, “What’s the secret for learning how to speak French fluently and without an accent?”
The answer is that “there’s no secret”.
By this I mean that you have to learn the “real” way. This means using the two most effective tools for learning a language fluently: A good teacher and a good textbook.
Many people try to learn French by using software packages like Rocket French and Babbel. While companies offering these products make promises that you can “Learn French In X Amount of Weeks” the reality is that while some of their tools may help, they don’t offer a total solution.
Having a good textbook is of utmost importance. While the software packages may indeed be useful by offering digitalized flashcards, they don’t do as good of a job at teaching language fundamentals including sentence structure and proper verb tense usage.
In addition, to really learn well you need a teacher who can identify your personal strengths and weaknesses, make useful corrections and enhance the learning process with his or her life experience.
Learning French is an entire discipline
If you want to speak fluently you must dedicate a lot of time to your goal. This doesn’t just mean spending a handful of sessions repeating basic phrases but dedicating one or two years of your life to the endeavor.
The great masters of any discipline, for example karate or body building, dedicate their entire lives to the goal of becoming an expert. This same principle applies to the discipline of learning French. It’s a lifetime adventure!
[clickToTweet tweet=”If you want to speak fluently you must dedicate a lot of time to your goal – David Issokson” quote=”If you want to speak fluently you must dedicate a lot of time to your goal – David Issokson”]
Master pronunciation and reading from the very start
There are two reasons for this. The first is that there are a lot of sounds that simply don’t exist in English. Key examples are the French “r” and “u” sounds.
Reading French aloud also poses a huge challenge to students. The reason is that the language is not phonetic, meaning that the way you see a word written is not the way it’s pronounced. There are numerous letter combinations such as “ois”, “ait”, “ent” and many more that have specific pronunciations.
The way to master these and know how to pronounce them when reading aloud is to have a teacher bring you through a pronunciation course.
Get to speaking as soon as possible
Most text books begin with subjects such as basic greetings, telling time, weather, etc.
While memorizing new words is important in the beginning it’s important to start speaking as soon as possible.
This means having a teacher or a conversation partner challenge you with questions about your life that are based on the vocabulary you’re learning.
For example, when learning weather words the teacher can ask, “How is the weather in your region today”? By pushing into conversation as soon as possible the language quickly becomes alive in your mind and you’ll easy into natural speaking much faster.
Have somebody explain difficult concepts
The French language has many concepts and ideas that many non-native speakers find challenging to grasp.
It’s very important that these areas be explained and clarified early on. In the beginning you’ll want to understand the meaning of a verb conjugation and learn about the difference between regular and irregular verbs.
These grammatical concepts are not taught very well in school systems of English speakers and can be very hard to grasp when learning French for the first time.
As you move towards intermediate French you’ll come across several verb tenses and concepts that aren’t used in English.
These include the imperfect tense and subjunctive mood. The imperfect is used to describe what you used to do in the past and the subjunctive is used to express wish, emotion or doubt.
Lastly, French has two words for “to know” (connaître and savoir) and it’s imperative to understand the difference. Understanding these concepts will help you enormously in the long run.
Figure out what kind of learner you are
No two people learn a foreign language in the exact same way.
While some people are very visual others are very sound-oriented. While some like to take lots of notes in classes others like to keep moving at a fast pace and just see which words stick. While some people can retain a new vocabulary word right away it takes others much more time for the words to sink in.
Try to figure out what works best for you early on, communicate this with your teacher and he or she should accommodate.
Drill baby, drill!
One of the best ways to improve your French in the shortest time possible is to do drill exercises with a teacher.
This means that the teacher picks a particular sentence structure that you might find challenging and gives translation sentences one after the other.
This is a great tool for review. The teacher can recall which words or phrases from previous lessons you might be struggling with and can bring them up in the drills. It also works great for learning new concepts since new and difficult concepts can usually sink in after a short drill session.
Let them hear your mistakes
Not all students of foreign languages have equal speaking abilities.
One of the most challenging situations is where students are shy and afraid to make mistakes.
If you’re one of these people then there’s a solution.
Rather than trying to avoid making mistakes take on the mindset of, “I’m going to make you listen to my mistakes”.
Also, most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s normal to struggle when learning a foreign language. Continuously remind yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes and that they’re part of the learning process.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Instead of trying to avoid making mistakes think, I’m going to make you listen to my mistakes.” quote=”Instead of trying to avoid making mistakes think, I’m going to make you listen to my mistakes.”]
Play the guessing game
As you continue to make progress in the learning process you’ll have more and more opportunities to try to express yourself.
One big challenge is what to do in situations where you either don’t know a word at all or forget a word that you’ve already learned but don’t remember.
One solution for this is to simply guess.
A lot of times your first instinct will be correct. Also, with so many French words being so similar to English the chances are very high that you’ll guess the word correctly.
This really applies to students who’ve learned Spanish as French and Spanish are even closer than French and English.
Pocket your English pronunciation
One challenge that continuously comes up for students is making pronunciation mistakes on French words that are the same (or almost the same) in English.
This includes words such as “importance”, “opportunité”, “information” and many more.
This is because the English-speaking mind is so used to seeing and pronouncing words in a set way since childhood. However, they are French words and must be pronounced entirely in French.
The way to overcome this challenge is to put your English pronunciation in your back pocket and relearn how to say the words with French pronunciation.
Progress not perfection
It’s very easy to put too much pressure on yourself. This is especially true if you’re learning French in order to pass some sort of test or interview.
The name of the game here is to try to “live in the now” during your lessons. If you make a mistake or multiple mistakes it’s okay. It’s perfectly natural and part of the learning process.
Those who tend to take their mistakes less seriously tend to make much faster progress.
Together we can
Learning to speak French fluently is indeed a tall order. But, the goal can be achieved over time by combining the key ingredients of the student’s willingness and aspirations along with the teacher’s enthusiasm and experience.
I hope these tips have helped and look forward to hearing you speak French soon.
Looking for a French teacher? Go check out David’s website!