You may dream of learning French in Paris – but the reality is that you’re learning French in your car as you drive to work, or at home with an online course or books.
The key to learning French, whether in Paris or at home, is by exposing yourself to and practicing the language as much as possible. Sure, it’s going to be more challenging if you’re not living in a Francophone culture, but there are still numerous ways for you to incorporate French into your daily routine.
Here are 12 ways you can improve your French at home. Use one of these tips every day and you’ll be surprised as at how strong your French is when you finally do come to Paris!
1. Read in French every day. It doesn’t matter what – just get reading! The most important thing is to read on a topic that interests you. If you’re into cooking – read a French food blog. If you like reading women’s magazines, why not read the online French versions of magazines like Marie Claire and Vogue? Current events your thing? Check out French newspapers, Le Monde or Libération. For literature lovers, read a book you’ve enjoyed in English, in French. Remember to write down any vocabulary you don’t know so you can look them up later.
2. Labels items in your home or office. Write down the French name of objects in your home or office on a post-it note, then stick the note to the object. Every time you look at the item, say the French name aloud. Be sure to write the definite article before the noun (e.g., “le miroir”, not just “miroir”) and always use the article when you say the noun aloud.
3. Listen to French radio. French sounds vastly different from how it is written, so an essential part of your home-study must include listening to French. Thank heavens for the internet, where you can listen to French radio sans problème. Check out France Inter, where you can listen to a variety of programs in French, from political talks to discussions of theater and music.
4. Talk to yourself in French. Admit it: sometimes you mutter to yourself. We all say things like: “Where are my keys?” or “What should I make for dinner tonight?” or even “Let’s go.” Think about what phrases you say the most – try to come up with at least 5 of them– and translate them into French. And from now on say them in French. When you can, practice saying them in the mirror so you can observe the way your mouth moves as you speak.
5. Keep a French diary. You can write whatever you like in this diary: Write about the weather. Make a grocery list. What you plan to do that day. What you already did that day. A description of a colleague at work. Until you’re comfortable changing tenses, we recommend focusing on writing in a particular tense. For example, if you’re just learning the present tense, try to write only in the present tense until you feel ready to change to another tense. Aim for writing one full page a day.
6. Get a French chat partner. There’s no escape – to truly learn French you must speak it. Thanks to communication programs like Skype and Google Talk, you can do language exchange with a native French speaker. You’d speak in French for 30 minutes, then your partner would speak in English 30 minutes, with each of you correcting the other. Check out websites such as Conversation Exchange and How Do You Do for more details.
7. Create color-coded flash cards for vocabulary and gender. To help you remember the gender of French nouns, we recommend using colored flash cards: Write feminine words on yellow cards (for example), and masculine words on green cards. That way, when you review your vocabulary list, you’ll begin to associate the word and its article with a particular color. Even if you don’t remember that “lampe” is feminine, you may remember that it was written on a yellow card – and you’ll know to say “la.”
8. Create a weekly “French movie night.” Watching movies or French programs can be a great way to help absorb spoken French – if it’s done right. If you’re new to French, it’s probably best to watch a French TV series or even cartoons rather than a full-length feature film. (The voices on children’s programs usually speak clearly and don’t use much slang, making it much easier to understand.) If you’re ready for a feature film, avoid watching it with English subtitles, as you’ll be doing more reading than listening to French. Instead, try to get a French film that offers French subtitles for the hearing impaired. The French words will help you understand the oral French better as well as improve your reading.
9. Listen to French music. Nothing can pull you deep inside a language better than song. Find your favorite French tune on YouTube and learn the song by heart. Pay close attention to pronunciation.
10. Play pretend. Look up a French restaurant on the internet and study the menu. Pretend you’re in France and are going to order something. Practice saying what you would order and the phrases you’d need to order it.
11. Repeat a word or phrase for 24 hours: Repetition is the best way to remember words and phrases, so choose a word or a phrase that you will repeat for the whole day. Say this word or phrase as often as possible, and set reminders for yourself. For instance, if you want to learn the phrase: “What time is it?” (Quelle heure est-il?), you can put a note next to your clock to remind you to say the phrase whenever you glance at it. You can also put the phrase on your phone or screen saver, so each time you look at your cell or computer, you’ll remember to say the phrase.
12. Change your technology settings. Why not make the language on your cell phone, tablet, or computer, French? It’s an easy way to expose yourself to the language – plus it’ll remind you to practice!
What steps have you taken to improve your French at home?