I recently got an email from a girl I went to uni with. She contacted me after reading this blog and told me how she was really keen to start learning French and what resources she’d recommend to start learning, particularly online resources.
My first reaction when I hear someone say they want to start learning le francais my reaction tends to be something like this:
So anyone taking a remote interest in learning my favourite language already wins brownie points and I was more than willing to help them get started.
But then I really had to start thinking, how did I learn this language again? After 10+ years of French learning I’ve kinda forgotten how I learned it in the first place and what it was like to be a beginner… So I started to not only try to remember how I started to learn French (learning essential verbs, building a basic vocab etc) but also all the things that went wrong in the beginning that I needed to correct as I got older. Such as not learning the correct pronunciation, not working with enough audio and not working with enough authentic audio resources.
So here is my small list of tips for learning French as a complete beginner!
1. Invest in at least 6 months of good beginner classes, particularly at the Alliance Francaise if you can afford it
The Alliance Francaise is a worldwide French organisation who’s purpose is to promote the French language. They have locations all over the world and in most major world cities, they have classes for all different levels and many other resources such as translating services, a library and French events throughout the year.
I went to the open day at the Alliance Francaise de Melbourne this year and sat in on a beginner class. I have now no doubt that they are the best people to start learning French with. Their classes were run by a native speaker, but what I loved is that they focused on speaking and understanding the language before showing you how a word was written.
This is so important when you want to learn French because it’s not a phonetic language and you cannot rely on the word in front of you to tell you how to say a word.
2. Work with native-speaker audio, don’t rely on reading a word!
Whenever you search for French audio make sure it is native-speaker audio and don’t follow the text as you listen. The aim is to understand the words without the text in front of you, too many students listen to some audio once then read the dialogue and listen at the same time. It may be easier that way, but unfortunately French people don’t come with subtitles!
So listen to the audio, if you don’t understand – repeat it. Repeat it at least three times and then look at the French text (you can only look at the French text after three listens), if you still don’t get it, read the English translation – but this is a last resort.
3. Master French Pronunciation
Believe it or not, French pronunciation is a lot easier than English pronunciation.
Take this example: ‘I read a lot’ vs ‘I read for two hours last night’
If you’re a native English speaker you pronounced the word ‘read’ differently even though they are spelled the same way.
And what about that stupid ‘ow’ sound? Take a proper look at the verb to bow, then a bough, a bow, low and owl. These words may have the same letters but the pronunciation is very inconsistent.
So before you start complaining about French pronunciation, remember that the pronunciation in your language is already much harder. Most people who say French pronunciation is hard say that because they never learned the rules. French pronunciation has very strict rules and the good news is, if you take the time to master them at the beginning – you will pronounce 90% of French words correctly.
The best way to master French pronunciation is to download French Today’s ‘Secrets to French Pronunciation’. It’s not free but is reasonably priced and a great investment in the beginning which will save a lot of confusion later on.
4. Take advantage of the many free apps, games and podcasts online
If you have an iPod, iPad or even just itunes downloaded onto your computer you can take advantage of the many great podcasts and apps out there for free.
Simply type in ‘French language’ into apps store, podcast or itunes U area and see what takes your fancy.
I’ve had success with finding good free podcasts and apps, although despite everyone raving about it I’ve never had success with itunesU…. But you might be lucky!
5. Once You’ve Had a Term or two of lessons try….
Listen to fairy tales in French, again I recommend French Today’s ‘Fun French Tales’. I really believe fairy tales are great for learning foreign languages because you already know the stories and if you think about it, it’s one of the ways you probably learned your first language 🙂
Hope you like this post, and Bonne Chance !