How to speak French: 4 Things You Need to Give Up to Succeed

Tired of endless grammar rules and useless vocabulary?

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People always talk about what you need to do to speak French.

You need to learn the most common French words and phrases, you need to understand French grammar, and have a good pronunciation.

You need to get used to thinking in a new language.

But when it comes to learning how to speak French, what you don’t do is almost as important as what you do.

So here are 3 things you need to give up if you want to speak French!

#1 Give up your need to understand everything about French grammar

At school, I spent years learning grammar rules by heart.

According to my teacher, this was necessary, because grammar is essential.

The result? After thousands of hours learning English and German at school (I’m a native French speaker), I could barely speak English.

One day I decided to stop obsessing over grammar rules and watch British and American TV series and find a conversation partner instead.

Binge watching TV series and speaking broken English did wonders for my English.

And I’m proud to say I now speak English fluently.

The truth is, you don’t need to learn grammar rules by heart to speak French correctly because you will learn grammar naturally if you spend lots of time listening and reading in French.

Don’t believe me?

Try asking a French person why they say something the way they say it.

More often than not, you’ll hear “I don’t know, it just feels right”.

That’s because they intuitively know whether something is correct or not.

Their knowledge of grammar rules comes from experience, not from learning rules by heart.

Knowing rules can help you learn faster. For example, knowing that most words ending in “e” are feminine will save you lots of time.

But ultimately, nothing replaces exposure to the language. Learning useful patterns and rules should be the icing on the cake.

Give up your need to always try to understand how everything works right away and focus on learning useful everyday phrases and you will learn French faster (and understand many grammar concepts intuitively).

#2 Give up your fear of speaking French

There is a French proverb saying that “it’s by forging that one becomes a blacksmith” and the same is true when it comes to speaking French: it’s by speaking French that one becomes a good French speaker.

So the answer to: how can I become better at speaking French? Or how can I get rid of my fear of speaking French is simple: speak French more often (or at least write in French more often).

When you speak French, several magical things happen:

  • You use what you learned which makes it easier to memorize.
  • You get feedback and correct mistakes before they become bad habits.
  • You improve your pronunciation.
  • You realize you can actually say much more than you thought and get a confidence boost.

That’s why I recommend you to speak French as soon as possible and accept that making mistakes is part of the learning process

As a beginner, your first conversations will be short but you’ll quickly be able to say more and more until you realize you can now speak French fluently.

Don’t know how to get started? Click here to discover how to find the perfect conversation partner!

#3 Give up your need to translate everything from French into English

Translating is a great way to learn French.

It helps you use your knowledge of English to quickly understand how the French language works (the two languages are much more similar than you may think) and save lots of time.

But it can also be dangerous because translating trains your brain to rely on tools and prevents you from thinking in French.

If you can’t understand anything written in your French book without a dictionary, you need an easier book to read.

If you need to read all subtitles while watching a French movie, you need to watch a movie that’s easier to understand.

The only goal of translation is to help you close gaps and understand a few unknown words and phrases you can’t understand from context alone.

If you translate everything, you won’t enjoy the experience because it’s frustrating and won’t memorize anything because you will learn too many new words and phrases at once.

#4 Say au revoir to your limiting beliefs

Henry Ford once said that “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” and this applies to speaking French as well.

I have taught French to thousands of French learners over the year. Some were 80, others were 20 or even 13.

Some were busy executives while others were unemployed. Some could afford to go to France for a few months while others couldn’t.

Many of them now speak French and succeeded not because they had lots of free time, were good at languages or young but because they believed in themselves.

You don’t need to be young, have a lot of time and be good at languages to speak French, you simply need to use the right method and never give up.

You may need to spend more time studying if you are older, you may need a few months more if you can’t study more than 15 minutes a day but you will eventually get there if you believe in yourself and spend time learning French a little bit every day.

People who speak French with confidence aren’t necessarily the smartest the youngest or the people with the most free time, they are the ones who understand that learning how to speak French takes time and were willing to take the time to get there.

Believe in yourself, dedicate time to learning with the right French course and you will speak French with confidence one day!

And you? What did you have to give up in order to speak French?

Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters.

10 thoughts on “How to speak French: 4 Things You Need to Give Up to Succeed”

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  1. Thank you for this! My husband has been telling me this all along. He is not bilingual; just smart and practical :-). Your program French Together (levels One and Two) has set me on the road to success. Merci! Bev

  2. Great article ! I am learning to give up my fear to speak french step by step and it is the best thing that could have happened to me regarding my french learning process. Its hard, but nothing else helps more than that 🙂

  3. Dave,
    I really like this idea if short films in French! Could you be more specific, possibly some exact titles on You Tube to get us started?


  4. There is a reason Children do so well at learning languages. First off, they aren’t afraid to make mistakes with their grammar. Secondly, they aren’t afraid to speak the language. Basically, they do all four of these things which is why they learn new languages quickly.

    My problem was that I was the person who spoke English “as a native” growing up. I had to deal with my French friends bad English and my laziness. I preferred to speak English since it was easier for me.

    On the other hand, | was “forced” to speak German when I went to Germany. Sort of with the same four rules here.

    On the other hand, I “need” to pass my B2 to show I “can” speak French, which means working on the grammar bit so I can pass.

  5. Hello I find it easier to read and translate than to converse with someone. At times it’s the fear of not making mistakes but now after reading this am going to give it all my best. Thank you so much for this. Merci?

  6. can you recommend some french films which are easier to understand? despite having once lived in paris for a year and being reasonably fluent (then), i have always had great difficulty understanding french films – unless i look at the sub-titles. btw, i prefer films which are intelligent and not full of violence and viciousness.

    • Why not try the Canadian version of Sesame Street called Téléfrançais? Try also Pagnol films and Truffaut flicks? Very sweet and poignant, easy to watch, and even though ‘old school,’ they stand up today for history buffs, in a sense. (Jean de Florette & Manon des Sources; Le Château de Ma Mère & La Gloire de Mon Père; Au Revoir, Mes Enfants & Argent de Poche — try them; you may want to see them often! (Diva is also a fun film but might be a little too-too punk/steam punk era!?)
      Happy viewing!

    • Hi Julian,

      These 2 French movies are good to improve French are :
      -Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain
      These are not full of violence and viciousness but the opposite of that.
      I share my experience about learning a foreign language with movies (I do it to improve my English) : listen 5 secondes of the movie – (watch the subtitles if you need) repeat the sentences – listen to the sentences again, do it until you can understand everything.
      Say the sentences you want to understand leads to a better oral comprehension !

      Thomas Ricomard

      • hi thomas,
        it is many years since i have seen amélie, but i would certainly like to see it again. i am very relieved to hear you suggest taking tiny chunks and repeating them (with subtitles if needed – they are in my case!) until they sink in. when i lived in paris, i had a teacher who used La Peau Douce to teach french to adults and we repeated each little bit until i could unpick all the words and actually understand it in real time. i think she did not allow sub-titles, however she was there to help with any bits i couldn’t get and now there will be no-one to help except the sub-titles. in the process of studying, i learned of this wonderful film that i had never seen before. it haunts me to this day – and also amuses me to compare the elegance of flying then with the skirmish and horribleness of flying now (unless you are on board Air Force One, i suppose). if you haven’t seen the film i won’t say anything more (to avoid spoilers), other than – do see it!

    • Hi Julian, I would recommend starting with Youtubers,
      As an independent learner, I cannot tell you how much my French listening, pronunciation and motivation has improved. I have learned more in 7 months than a years workload at University.
      Watching youtube videos allows you to repeat them and are on average 2 to 15 mins long. Most of them come with subtitles and you can play it as background to get used to the rhythm of the language.

      Hope that helps.



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