bonjour! of course I don’t get to blogging in 2020 until late march when we’re all on lockdown. but like, take wins where you can get ’em amirite?
anyway! some of you may know that my new year’s resolution in 2019 (one of them, at least) was to start learning french again after basically 10 years of not using it. after realizing how stupid it was to have stopped after AP french in high school, I picked up again on my childhood dream of becoming multilingual and went back to square 1 … or like, square 2 or 3. I didn’t forget everything. but I was definitely not at a conversational level whatsoever.
so perhaps these tips are geared more toward the beginner-intermediate level versus true, start-from-scratch beginner level. that said, I’m gonna walk you through every single thing that has helped me pick things back up and get to a conversational level of français in just over a year. I have a long way to go, but I’ll be continuing with all of these until I get to a solid level of fluency!
this is where I started. finding the right app depends completely on your level and learning style, and I have used several different apps for different purposes — they all helped in different ways. all of the ones I’m listing have a free version (except rosetta) with an option to buy premium, and I bought premium for both duolingo and busuu.
duolingo: the first app I used. gamifies language learning so you are more inclined to keep going (though as with all game apps, I hit a plateau at a certain point and then never go back). sometimes with duo it feels like there’s literally no rhyme or reason to the method/lessons, but nevertheless I found it very useful, and now that I’m thinking of it, I should give it a go again (I tested out of every level and somehow am still not fluent lol). one tip I did get was to change your native language to the one you’re learning, and set it to learn english. a little 180 for ya.
busuu: this was one of my favorite programs, but again, I got to the end of the material and still find myself squarely in the Bs (B1-B2), which is intermediate level. It said I was 96% fluent which is hilariously inaccurate. that SAID, this one is particularly special because you can help other language learners with their english, and native language speakers (like french speakers in my instance) can help correct your spoken and written material. there’s a lovely sense of community with busuu and I’d highly recommend it.
drops: this one is a flashcard style app to teach you basic vocabulary in different categories. super useful, super practical, and free. a great supplement to your program/great for quick practice and keeping yourself fresh.
rosetta stone: gonna be honest, I was psyched to get a deal on a 6-month rosetta package (because it’s been known as the gold standard in language learning for so long), but I actually don’t like it at all. their exercises are convoluted and confusing (no instructions and really weird prompts and photos), but the level of language they’re teaching is waaaay too easy and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to set it to more advanced. wouldn’t recommend this one if you’re at an intermediate level.
this has been perhaps my favorite aspect of learning a new language: the music. switching my spotify over to mostly french tunes has opened me up to incredible artists, and I’ve found that I actually prefer what’s coming out of the francophone music industry to a lot of the american stuff (not to be like, anti-american or whatever, I love america + our music so pls don’t @ me).
sharing my playlist (above) of some of my fav artists: Angèle, Polo et Pan, Bigflo et Oli, Clara Luciani, Therapie Taxi, Pirouettes, and Videoclub. I hope you love as much as I do!
this is the most recent addition to my educational repertoire (ha! a french word!). and I feel like I’ve seen a ton of progress in a very short time thanks to it!
I recently discovered the podcast innerfrench and I’m OBSESSED with it. the host just talks about interesting topics (humor, the concept of happiness, culture, food) at a slightly slower cadence, using really clear dictation. no explanation of grammar or sentence structure, just something interesting to listen to. again, this is geared toward intermediate listeners, but it is SO HELPFUL for improving your aural skills and listening comprehension.
there are, of course, tons of others. I’m listening to the duolingo podcast here and there, but innerfrench has been by far the best. and of course if you’re learning a different language, you gonna have to find a diff podcast for that (sry).
if podcasts aren’t your thing, there’s a ton of similar content on youtube. for instance, innerfrench posts content on youtube as well. frenchpod101 has a ton of content, and I’m a big fan of français authentique‘s channel too. it’s so easy to breeze through youtube videos, and you can learn without feeling like you’re in school. youtube is an amazing free resource, with tons of content to go through.
tv + movies
ok so another v popular technique is obviously to watch tv series and movies in the language you’re trying to learn. I did this in a number of ways
- watch disney movies in french. if you grew up watching the classic disney movies and know the songs and words by heart, I found this to be quite useful. change the language to french (or whatever you’re learning) and set the subtitles to that language as well, so you can start to link the sound of a word to how it’s written. same thing goes for harry potter or any other movie franchise you’ve seen dozens of times (enough to know the script better than the actors).
- netflix original series. I loved the two I’ve watched so far (binged both of them) — both plan cœur and le bazar de la charité were amazing (and two very different shows). again, I watched with french subtitles, not english.
- original movies. think: amélie, coco before chanel, etc. so instead of watching american movies with the dubbed audio and subtitles, watch something unique to that region. a nice little cultural immersion.
- subtitles. add french subtitles to your regular american programs. this has helped me start to understand how certain phrases would be translated (very often it’s not literal)
actually going to school
so like, this is definitely one way of doing it. it’s not free, of course (can be roughly $500 per semester, depending on where you go). but, it did help a solid amount — I took a semester at a local college of level 3 french this past fall term.
I have learned that the public school format of education is not optimized for adult learning (at least not for me — that’s another story for another day), but I definitely honed in on some grammar skills and re-learned a bunch of the tenses (future, conditional, subjunctive, etc). was a great way to keep myself on track, too.
as of now I’m in an adult class at the san diego french american school, which is basically for the moms of the elementary kids who are learning french there at the same time, and then me, who just has a dog and a desire to be bilingual.
in-person learning, with the ability to speak aloud and attempt to converse naturally, has helped significantly with my progress; I realized that outside of this, I was getting literally zero opportunity to actually speak on a regular basis. if class is out of the picture for you, you can even find a language group or club near you (many are free!) — I’d highly recommend it.
changing iPhone settings
so this shout out goes to my mom who told me to change my british siri to french siri, which has simultaeously helped and made my life more complicated as monsieur siri doesn’t understand american addresses when I ask for directions. pro tip though: if you know how to say “how do you say ____ in english” (for instance, comment dit-on papillon en anglais?) your foreign siri will tell you the word in english so you can practice saying new words and get the translation just by talking into your phone.
I also just recently changed my entire phone language to french, which again, has been helpful and completely disastrous. trying to get money out of my paypal account was a doozy. on the bright side, you’ll learn a lot of tech words quite quickly.
this has not been a huge priority, but I still downloaded harry potter and the sorcerer’s stone in french. a book I’ve read a bunch of times, now in a new language. I feel like it’s a good bridge before I get into stuff that was originally written in french. however, there’s a tense in french (not sure if this is the same in other languages) that’s like… only used in literature? so the first look at chapter one I was like “tf is this?!” before realizing that there’s this like whole ass verb tense I didn’t know (seriously french, wtf). anyway.
I recommend downloading vs. getting the paperback if you have an iPad — I highlight words I don’t know and then look them up immediately, then I can go back and reference highlighted sections to add to my vocabulary list.
you can also buy a textbook (like easy french step by step) for literally under $10 if you want to start your own at-home program without going back to school.
an obvious one, but one that is much more expensive and requires a lot of extra effort. if you have the ability to travel to an area in which the language you’re learning is spoken, DO IT. don’t f*k around. this is the most ideal way to learn.
last year I was #blessed enough to visit both Saint Barthélemy and Paris, and got to practice speaking with locals. it was rad to see the progress I made between march (st. barth’s) and may (paris) and the language immersion really helped me go from rusty to somewhat fluid. I should prob do a travel post for both of those trips. quarantine!
aight so as you can tell, there are a lot of ways you can learn a language, and almost all of them are freeeee!! and there are of course, many more methods beyond this, but all of these ingredients have been helping me advance in my language skills.
I know a lot of us are stuck at home right now, particularly in california and new york. I have found that keeping my mind active and challenging myself with something non-news related has helped me mitigate the anxiety of being house-bound.
use this time at home to your advantage! add some culture to your life, keep your brain healthy and young (literally improves your memory and thinking skills), get smarter, relieve stress… and learn a new language! this seriously can benefit you in so many ways.
and if you’re learning french, leave me a comment or a dm on instagram! I’d love to hear what you’re using to improve your skills.
it’s a pretty freaky time, and many of us feel pretty intense anxiety (myself definitely included) — I’m hoping to share more fun and useful info like this that isn’t virus-centric so you can keep things light and happy at home. writing has always been a therapeutic outlet for me, and I’m grateful to have a little more time to get back to writing for myself! in turn, I hope to help you get through all of this, too. we’re all in this together.
bisous ! à bientôt !