Learning French, like learning any other language, involves a lot of memorization that is daunting for adults who no longer have the flexible minds of youth.
However, here are a few tips that can help you accomplish your language learning goals a little faster.
Keep Away from Translating
As much as possible stay away from translating words unless you are completely stuck. There are a number of reasons for this. One, of course, is the sheer memorization acrobatics you will have to do to retain all that information. But there are terms that are just not translatable. For example, “I am” and “I have” when presented in this form are straightforward, but if you add an adjective at the end, it isn’t directly translatable.
Try to say “I am hungry” which translated verbatim is “je suis faim”, instead of “J’ai faim”. The latter would translate to “I have hungry”. We’ve all seen the nonsensical online translated texts. The other reason, of course, is that using a dictionary instead will exponentially increase your vocabulary – chances are you will discover you already know another word that means the same thing. Better to learn a word or phrase from within the structure of the language you are learning – especially when it comes to French.
Audio vs. Written
No doubt listening to a language spoken is very different from the written version, and there does seem to be a correlation between reading a text and simultaneously listening to the words spoken outloud that reinforces memory. But the danger is that in French the conversational language sounds very different than the written version. Take for instance the term “you’re welcome.” When someone thanks you which in French, it is “il n’y a pas de quoi” in the written vernacular; but this becomes “ya pad koa” in the spoken term. In the case where the spoken and written forms are straightforward, seeing the words and listening to the enunciation of words, particularly where action, is involved, reinforces that word or sentence in your vocabulary.
Find your Learning Style
Everybody has a different learning style, some need to immerse themselves in the learning process by acting out and experimenting, while others can sit in front of a book and devour every syllable until they retain all the information they need. Some have good auditory memory while others have good visual memory and some have active memory, where they need to do something related to the topic in order to retain new information. Whatever your style, this is what you need to focus on to achieve desired success.
Sentences Rather Than Words
Try learning sentences rather than individual words. This will increase the speed with which you learn because the majority of our communications happens at the sentence level. A single word can seldom convey a message as well. The sentence has context, associated with it that helps to form a visual or action image to help reinforce learning. Naturally, it is the words within the sentence that your mind will focus upon and string a series of relatable or recognisable words into a sentence structure.
Too often I see people who are trying to learn French or any other language fall back to their default language. For instance, they will only make friends with people who speak the same language, watch TV in only their native tongue, shop only at stores they know will serve them in their native tongue, read books in their native language and so on. French, in particular, is such a complex language that even Francophones who have been away from their language, need to immerse themselves back into the language to recapture all the spoken nuances that were lost while they were away from their native tongue.
We do not mean to imply in the previous paragraph for you to place all your available time into learning French. Rather, small does everyday will produce better results than doing it all in one sitting. Do try to read one article in a French newspaper; do try to listen to French radio on the drive to work or listen to the news in French on the television for one hour. Try to engage in a French conversation with a sales clerk or cashier at your local market. The more diverse the ways you use to integrate French into your daily activities, the easier this integration will get over the long run.
Find a Language Partner
Find someone who is a fluent Francophone and ask them to correct you everytime they hear you make a mistake. Make it a point to speak to that person as often as your schedule will allow. Eventually, this person will ease the anxiety we all feel at looking foolish from the linguistic mistakes we are bound to make. It is important that you see and hear a lot of material that demonstrates your level of learning, and this is where the feedback from your partner will pay dividends. Alternatively, sign up for the tutoring program at Adapt2me where you will be assigned a partner with whom you can schedule regular interactions in increments of 30 minutes each.
Don’t be Shy
Making mistakes will be part of the journey, and no one will fault you for getting things wrong – even if you have been at this for years. Timidity and fear will be your greatest adversaries. But if you persevere and keep at it, one day you will notice that you had a complete conversation that did not require fumbling for words or produce anxiety over whether you made yourself clear enough.