French may be one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn, but a little guidance definitely won’t hurt (if anything, it’ll speed up your learning time!). Here are my top tips to learn French, so you can master this beautiful language in no time.
1. Activate Your Passive Memory
At first sight, French can look like a real bother when it comes to spelling, choosing the right gender and conjugating the numerous tenses. The good news? You can actually learn all of that without getting burned out. The key is to use your passive memory.
Are you a visual learner? Reading an interesting article or book in French will help you remember the right orthography, use of tenses, nouns gender and vocabulary. Don’t focus too much on understanding everything, just pick a book suitable for your level. You can simply translate the most repeated words and soon you’ll integrate them into your vocabulary. The context will help you figure out the rest!
The same goes for watching TV series, films or YouTube videos in French. Not only will it help auditory learners to get the grammar right, but you’ll also pick up on the right intonation and accent. Once again, it’s advisable to watch suitable videos for your level, without English subtitles (you can use French subtitles though). Your focus must stay on French!
If you integrate this habit into your daily routine, you’ll probably surprise yourself by using the right tenses, gender and intonation without putting in conscious effort. Are you skeptical? This is actually the way babies learn their first languages — and nobody’s been teaching them grammar rules.
2. Get Creative To Memorize Gender
Is “table” male or female? While this is a weird concept for English speakers, if you want to speak French perfectly, you’ll need to know the gender of each and every noun. One easy way to remember gender is to use sticky notes: Stick the written French word together with its article on the designated object to remember the gender with the word (for example, stick la table on the table). The best would be to use stickies from two different colors, one for masculine and one for feminine. For vocabulary that can’t have a sticky stuck to it (like concepts), write down the new words in two different columns using two different ink colors.
As a reminder, you can also refer to these rules:
Feminine nouns endings:
- most of the endings with -e, such as -ise (surprise), -ine (mandarine), -alle (balle), -elle (poubelle), -euse (danseuse), -esse (maîtresse), -ette (fourchette), -ille (fille), -ière (théière), -ance (romance) and -ence (urgence)
- -ude, -ure, -ade (attitude, peinture and promenade)
- –tion, -sion, -son (natation, pension, maison)
- -ée, -té, (idée, liberté)
Masculine nouns endings:
- few endings with -e are masculine, such as -tre (théâtre), -cle (article), -age (fromage), -ège (siège) and -isme (capitalisme)
- –and (marchand)
- -ou (bijou)
- -oir (comptoir)
- -ment (gouvernement)
- -il, -ail, -eil (fil, ail, accueil)
- -eau (couteau)
- -eur (professeur)
- consonants in general
You will definitely come across some exceptions, but no worries. Making this kind of mistake is not a big deal when you’re starting out, as you’ll undoubtedly be understood anyway. If you keep practicing in your everyday life, these mistakes will naturally disappear over time.
3. Focus On Intonation
Correctly pronouncing the French R and nasal sounds of the language are surely difficult for English speakers — but this is overrated for beginners. French speakers will understand you much better if your intonation is correct, even if your pronunciation is mediocre, rather than the other way around. If you stress your French sentences right, the person you are speaking to will understand where a sentence starts and finishes, as well as what information is important. It structures the comprehension and helps them to quickly understand what you mean. The good news is French intonation is extremely easy!
- The stressed syllable in a word is always the last one, on a descending tone:
- The stressed part of a sentence is always the last syllable. Use a descending tone for an affirmative sentence and an ascending tone for a question. You can also stress the most important words of the sentence:
Try to repeat simple sentences from a video and once you get it right, your English R will not be a trouble. In fact, it might even give you an exotic and charming accent!
4. Beware Of Loan Words
Perhaps one of the least intuitive tips to learn French is to avoid using clichéd words and expressions that everybody knows. These include but aren’t limited to: Oh là là, rendez-vous, coup de grâce, or calling the waiter garçon. These loanwords and phrases sound very cliché to French ears, or might not be used the same way in French as they are in English (the exception is for food vocabulary, but more on that later). For example, a rendez-vous can be either mean a romantic date, an appointment at the doctor or even a business meeting. To address a waiter or waitress, simply say s’il vous plaît or excusez-moi. Always prefer the vocabulary that you’ve learned in a French-speaking context (during your vacation in France or in a film) or in your French lessons, rather than vocabulary carried over from English.
5. Learn Food Vocabulary
As you probably already know, French people are obsessed with food. That means that learning food vocabulary is the perfect ice breaker to start a conversation with a French speaker and sound very French yourself! It’s convenient that English uses so many French terms for this topic, so you’re already one step ahead. Check out this list:
|à la carte||picnic|
If you don’t have the possibility to travel to a French-speaking country, you can always practice in a local French restaurant or bakery. Order food and give your compliments to the chef in French, they will be very happy!