So you want to learn a foreign language? Excellent, you’re in the right place. Some people take language placement examinations to determine their level of a foreign language.
What’s my barometer?
I’ve created my own point system, see the following:
When I was driving into work last week, someone cut me off and I yelled a rather colorful French word:
After living in France for 6 months, I visited Brussels and I comfortably navigated my way conversationally sans problem in a different French speaking country:
For the first week I was in Barcelona, I kept trying to speak French. This made me realize how much I could say in French and how much Spanish I needed to learn:
50 points. That has to count for something.
(I give extra points for curse words.)
In all honesty, learning French was a challenge for me. A fun, frustrating, hilarious, and at times an embarrassing, but memorable experience. I’d like to share some of the resources and steps I took during my crash course in French.
I’m a big fan of Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months, who is a firm believer that you don’t need to leave your hometown to learn a language. Your location shouldn’t be a deterrent to learning a new language.
That being said, I did quite a bit of language prep for France while I was still living in Oregon before my departure. I must note that I had a very basic foundation in French before beginning this adventure, thanks to one summer session French class in college. I also took 10 weeks of French while in Cameroon as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but I ended up living in an English speaking province, so I didn’t use much of what I’d learn. I also have a bit of high school Spanish. Now that you have a bit of my language background, let’s dive into language learning tips.
First and foremost, having a reason to learn a language was key.
I wanted to be able to communicate in French at a level that allowed me to communicate at a basic, yet comfortable level upon entry. My true goal was to be able to understand and speak at a level where I felt comfortably socially. Other language learners aim for a particular level of language competency. My goal was to be able to express myself in French and speak with others naturally. By the end of my time in France I achieved this. I was able to carry a general conversation with minimal or no effort and that felt très bien.
How did I achieve my language competency?
I used many different techniques, all which served a valuable purpose for me at various times. I also made sure to wear stripes and a scarf at all times. Kidding. Well, not really. Continue reading to learn more about my real world tips to learn a foreign language. FYI: No links are paid/affiliate links at this time, I’m just hoping to share this information and my experience.
Prior to departure.
I had about 3 months to brush up on the basics of French before I left the states.
I took a few introductory classes at Alliance Françaises in Portland, Oregon.
Online Language App
Started using Duolingo – a free language learning app (available in multiple languages).
I watched French films with English subtitles and listened to French music. Merci, Christine and the Queens.
I used italki.com to find language partners who were native French speakers who wanted to learn English. This gave me a chance to communicate at a basic level with natives via Skype, all from the comfort of my home.
Life in country (France).
Let the games begin. The whole “immersion” thing didn’t apply to me since I was working on my computer and writing in English 5 days a week. This meant that I needed to take extra efforts if I was ever going to learn anything past the basics. Aside from doing my best to jump into social situations I did more than just live my day-to-day life in France in order to progress with my language learning.
Language exchange groups
I attended a weekly language exchange, which is basically speed dating for language learners. 1 native English speaker, 1 French speaker: 7 minutes in French, then switch to English. We’d normally speak with about 7 different people by the end of the night. Add in a glass of pinot noir and there you go. I found one group via Meetup.com , but my favorite was GoLingo. There’s plenty of options via Facebook too. Just do your research for your local area.
Watch the news
Watching the news, both at lunch at during dinner is quite common for French families. After feeling lost during the first few weeks I started reading the major news stories in English before watching the news in French. That gave me a better shot at knowing what was happening instead of relying on images and my limited vocabulary.
Read children’s books
When it comes down to it, you’re sort of starting out like a kid in terms of your language. And why not embrace that? I was able to read simple books like “The Three Little Pigs” and more complex books like “Pocahontas” with help from a native speaker. I picked up a few magazines, which were also helpful.
I found a tutor at a very reasonable price thanks to italki.com and had a weekly hourlong session with my tutor. She was a native French speaker from France and lived on one of the French Polynesian islands. We would chat each session, review vocabulary, and do some reading exercises as well. This was really helpful for me.
Now that I’m back in the states for a bit, I fully intend to keep up what I’ve learned. Although French is a challenging language, I’d like to keep up my knowledge in one shape or form. At the bare minimum I’d like to continue watching films and listening to music in French. Now that I’m getting back into a routine in the states I’ll be starting up my weekly French tutoring sessions soon.
It may seem strange but, keeping up my language feels like the respectful thing to do in honor of the people that helped me along in my language journey. I learned so much and I don’t want to lose that knowledge. I hope to return to France again and I look forward to being able to communicate in French when I go back to visit.
Final thoughts and tips.
Unfortunately I didn’t realize how much I had learned in French until I left France. When I was in Spain I kept trying to speak Spanish, but my French kept coming out. When that happened I realized how much I actually could speak. My friends from France also kept emphasizing to me how much I truly had learned and how much my language had progressed. That felt good.
Pace yourself: Learning a new language is exhausting.
I nearly fell asleep at a dinner party one night. It made me realize how much I had to focus on keeping up with conversations. Don’t expect to be fluent in a month, it takes longer than that. You may also experience peaks and valleys during your language learning, as it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
You probably never finish learning a language.
I’m a 30-year old native English speaker and I’m still learning things about the English language. Keep in mind that you can’t learn it all and that’s ok. Generally speaking, languages are always evolving and it’s nearly impossible to learn it all so give yourself a break!
Pat yourself on the back once in awhile.
If I would have done things over I would have given myself more credit in terms of my language learning. I learned a ton, but didn’t realize how much I’d learn until after I’d left France and was speaking French in Brussels. Be kind to yourself and keep a positive attitude.
Laugh. Always be sure to laugh.
As soon as I’d get frustrated, my language comprehension suffered. Laughing and having a light attitude towards French was a big help and made it more fun. Although it can be seriously frustrating at times, try and smile through it.
“Merci beaucoup” to everyone who has helped me along in my French learning language adventures.