How to learn the French Language at home
French has a long history as an international language of literature and scientific standards and is a primary or second language of many international organisations including the United Nations, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the World Trade Organization, the International Olympic Committee, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 2011, Bloomberg Businessweek ranked French the third most useful language for business, after English and Standard Mandarin Chinese. French, a Romance language of the Indo-European family finds its roots in the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire. It evolved from Gallo-Romance, the Latin spoken in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d’oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France’s past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French. French is an official language in 29 countries across multiple continents, most of which are members of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), a community of 84 countries that share the official use or teaching of French. French is also one of six official languages used in the United Nations. It is spoken as a first language (in descending order of the number of speakers) in France; Canada (provinces of Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick as well as other Francophone regions); Belgium (Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region); western Switzerland (Romandy—all or part of the cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel, Vaud, Valais); Monaco; parts of Luxembourg; parts of the United States (the states of Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont); north-western Italy (autonomous region of Aosta Valley); and various communities elsewhere.
Let's now see how are you can learn French at home
Identify your reason and passion for learning French
Here are some really good reasons to learn French:
- To travel the world. French is an official language in over 25 countries and is widely spoken in many more.
- To have conversations with French-speaking family members.
- To read French literary classics (think Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas and Gustave Flaubert).
- To connect with French native speakers.
- To get an inside view of French culture.
Immerse yourself without leaving your home
Here is what you can do to immerse yourself in French:
- Turn your smartphone into a French speaker. Switch the language settings on your phone to French. You can do the same with your computer.
- Look for French speakers in your city. Most cities around the world, big or small, will have a community of French speakers. Chances are, there’s one near you.
- Watch French TV and movies. Switch on the subtitles to speed up your learning.
- Read articles and books in French. LingQ is a helpful tool for doing this.
- Listen to French radio and podcasts (my favourite is FrenchPod101). You can learn a lot of French by listening to French songs.
Creating your own French phrasebook that’s relevant to your life
- You’ll learn French much faster if you focus on words and phrases that are relevant to your life. Add a lot of fillers and conversation connectors to help you build your first conversation.
- Plus, when you have real conversations in French (I’ll come to that in a moment), you’ll be able to talk about yourself.
- That’s why I recommend creating a personalised French phrasebook. This is a collection of words and phrases that are relevant to you.
Using language hacks to make “difficult” French turn into easy French
Language hacks are shortcuts that help you learn a language faster. They’re ideal if you want to learn to speak French. Here are a few of my favourite language hacks that can speed up your French learning:
- Spaced Repetition Systems (SRS). SRS is a great method for memorising vocabulary and phrases using virtual flashcards. My favourite SRS tool, Anki, is free and allows you to create your own flashcards, so you can build a deck from your personalised French phrasebook.
- Mnemonics. A memory palace is an effective way to burn French words onto your brain.
- The Pomodoro Technique. Break up your study sessions into 25-minute chunks. This gives you better focus, so you learn more in a shorter time
- French includes sounds that don’t even exist in English. When you’ve only ever spoken one language, forming your lips and tongue into new shapes to make unfamiliar sounds can feel jarring, like hearing a wrong note in a well-known song.
- Some language learners let this hold them back. They feel embarrassed about saying things wrong and making mistakes.
- Push through this fear by speaking French even when you feel silly. You’ll learn French much faster that way.
Learn how to have real conversations with native French speakers
No matter where you live you can still find people, either online or offline, to speak with, in French. I like to search for native French speakers on:
- italki. This is the first place I go to find French tutors and pay for one-on-one lessons (reasonably priced).
- Meetup.com. Most major cities have a Meetup for French speakers or French learners. CouchSurfing is another of my favourite ways to meet French speakers.
- HelloTalk. This free mobile app helps you find French speakers who are learning your native language.
Focus on the Easy Aspects of French
French really isn’t easier or harder to learn than any other language, but you can quickly forget this if you only focus on the difficult aspects of French. Whenever you get discouraged, think about all of the ways that French is actually an easy language to learn. French is an easy language because it:
- Has no cases (nominative, accusative, etc), unlike Russian.
- Is not a tonal language, unlike many African and Asian languages.
- Shares a lot of vocabulary with English due to their intertwined histories.
- Uses the Latin alphabet.
- Only has two noun genders, unlike German, which has three.
According to the OIF, approximately 300 million people worldwide are “able to speak the language”. According to a demographic projection led by the Université Laval and the Réseau Démographie de l’Agence universitaire de la Francophonie, the total number of French speakers will reach approximately 500 million in 2025 and 650 million by 2050. OIF estimates 700 million by 2050, 80% of whom will be in Africa.
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