How to Learn French by Yourself in 14 Shockingly Simple Steps
Learning a language by yourself is challenging, but following the steps we set out will give you a great start. We recommend finding a professional tutor as soon as possible because they will help you study more effectively and, crucially, speak French regularly.
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you do grammar exercises all day and night, but something as simple as kicking back in front of the TV or watching a movie can be helpful for your French language learning.
Learning French from authentic content is more important than you might think. Seeing the language used naturally by French speakers won’t just introduce you to the language and culture, but it’ll also help you hear words and grammar concepts in use, learn what sounds natural to reproduce in your own speech and hear the correct pronunciations of words. On top of all these benefits, it’s fun! And having fun while learning can be a huge motivating factor to keep up with your studies.
Watch it for the first time with English subtitles. If it’s a movie, you’ll have to watch it again. If it’s a TV show, you can just move on to the next episode. This time, watch it with French subtitles instead of English subtitles.
And it’s important that you turn those English subtitles off or switch to French. English subtitles are a crutch. Even if you think you aren’t looking at them, you’ll soon notice how much you were relying on them once you switch them off.
Now you’ll have the French subtitles to rely on. Maybe they’re a bit more difficult to understand, but the advantage here is that you’re no longer switching from French to English or translating the movie as you go.
When you’re reading along to the French subtitles, keep an eye out for high-frequency words. If you see a French word more than three times, that might mean it’s a commonly-used word, and it’s probably also important for the understanding of whatever you’re watching. Write this word down and use it actively. You might add it to your flashcard deck, use it in sentences in context or even make an audio recording of you using this word in everyday speech.
You can also use different resources to practice listening and reading. A good place to start could be with content like podcasts that come with transcripts or listening to audiobooks while reading along to the text. These resources expose you to a lot of new words that you might not come across in daily speech and train both your listening and reading skills at once.
If you reach a high reading comprehension level, you still might find yourself confused when someone speaks to you in French. This is because the differences between written French and spoken French are so significant they can appear like two different languages.
That’s why it’s essential to include listening in your French learning routine. Reading is a fun and convenient way to enrich your French vocabulary, but it won’t necessarily help you understand the lady in the patisserie shop.
- Check out Bien Dire for audio recordings of native French speakers in conversation.
- Listen to French podcasts . We recommend Coffee Break French for beginners.
- Listen to French music by searching for playlists you like on Spotify , Apple Music, or your favorite Youtube channels .
- Listen to audio books. Look for French language versions of your favorite books on Audible or rent them from your local library (if available).
- Explore YouTube. Think about the kind of videos you usually watch (e.g. interior design, personal development, vlogs) and then find French YouTubers that create videos on those topics. This way you’ll learn natural, modern French. Stephen Krashen, an expert in linguistics, proposes that to learn a new language, the content needs to be understandable enough that we get the “gist” of it (even if some concepts remain beyond our grasp). So if you don’t understand after the first few minutes, look for something else.
- Find YouTubers who dedicated their channels to learning French. Our favorites are innerFrench (more suitable for intermediate to advanced learners) and Piece of French (beginner to intermediate learners).
Learn French Basics: French Lesson For Beginners
Learning French Pronunciation, The French Alphabet And French Accents
French pronunciation is notoriously confusing for non-native French speakers, especially when they are confronted with a French word that looks nothing like it’s pronounced from how it’s spelled (think hors d’oeuvres, for one). The French language is full of funky orthography and very specific pronunciations — silent letters, clusters of vowels and sounds that don’t exist in English.
Don’t worry if you can’t master a typical French accent or French pronunciation right away; it takes time and practice! The best way to remember these rules is just to practice over and over, especially by reading texts out loud. Watching French TV and movies or listening to French podcasts, radio and film can certainly help you master French pronunciation and sound like a native French speaker.
As mentioned above, French is a descendant of the Vulgar Latin spoken by the common people of the Roman Empire. Though English isn’t in the same language family as French (English is a Germanic language), more than a quarter of English words come from Latin, and roughly the same amount of English words come from the French language (so, indirectly from Latin). And there are thousands of Greek words that have made their way into both English and French, too. That means you’re going to find a lot of Latin- and Greek-derived words in French vocabulary you already recognize. When you see the French words artiste, académique, or génération, for example, you’ll probably have no trouble guessing their English equivalents.
Basics Of French Grammar
French Verbs And French Verb Conjugations
You can recognize when a word you come across is a French verb by noticing the word’s ending. French verbs end in one of three endings: –er (like the verb danser, “to dance”), –ir (like avertir, “to warn”) or –re (like perdre, “to lose”). This makes it fairly easy to figure out when you’re dealing with a French verb as opposed to another type of French word, like a French noun or French adjective. However, these are only the endings for the verbs in what’s called their infinitive form — “to do,” “to be,” “to eat” or “to speak,” for example.
To be used in actual French sentences, these verbs need to be conjugated, which is a technical way of saying that each French verb requires a special ending depending on the subject of the verb (who or what is doing the action of the verb). There are many French verbs that are considered “regular” because they all follow the same consistent pattern of conjugation.
For example, for a regular verb ending in –er, like parler (“to speak”), if the pronoun je (“I”) is the subject, or the one doing the speaking, you drop the –er ending from the verb and add the ending –e to the remaining verb “stem,” giving je parle, or “I speak.” For the pronoun tu (“you”), parler becomes tu parles, or “you speak.” Each subject has its own special conjugation, or verb ending, associated with it, and this applies for all verbs, whether they end in –er, –ir, or –re — though the conjugations are slightly different for each ending.
There are, however, many French verbs — and important ones at that — whose conjugations are irregular and must be learned and memorized separately. These verbs include ones like aller (“to go”), être (“to be”) and avoir (“to have”).
Knowing how to conjugate French verbs is essential to being able to express yourself in French, and you’ll likely spend a large part of your French learning journey focusing on the grammar of French verbs. Once you master them, you’ll be well on your way to speaking French with fluency.
French Nouns And French Gender
Each French noun has a gender, meaning it’s classified as either masculine (masculin) or feminine (féminin). This doesn’t mean that every person, place, object or idea is inherently male or female; it’s just a system of grammatical categorization that exists in French and many other world languages that affects how speakers use these languages.
Often, French gender marking maps to words in ways you’d expect; la mère (“the mother”) is a feminine noun, so it requires the singular definite article la (“the”), whereas le père (“the father”) is a masculine noun that requires the definite article le. But sometimes these gender assignments can be pretty arbitrary; why is la chaise (“the chair”) feminine while le canapé (“the sofa”) is masculine? A major part of learning French nouns involves memorizing their gender classifications, so it’s important to practice this concept.
Ways To Learn French
There is no right answer when it comes to how to learn French — or any new language. With so many options for your language journey, it’s no surprise that choosing a learning style or method can be overwhelming!
Of the millions of people who speak and study French as a non-native language, you’ll find folks who have used all sorts of resources to learn the language, some free, some fairly cheap, and some more of a financial investment. There’s no right combination, and it’s up to you to decide which methods work best for you to learn French.
What’s The Quickest And Easiest Way To Learn French?
You’ll find that the fastest and easiest way to learn French is the way that offers you the least amount of friction — so if you can’t stand shuffling through textbook pages or you get bored flipping French flashcards, you might want to stick to a method that’s more exciting or engaging. Knowing yourself is key to success. Here are just a few of the ways to learn French quickly:
Learning French In The Classroom
French is among the most studied languages in school systems and universities around the world. French classroom learning is the most popular option for learners in grade school or university settings. It allows more intensive, regular study with feedback from teachers who know the French language and can correct mistakes as they happen and teach content in an interactive way. Depending on how large a class is and how engaged the teacher is, learning in a classroom might be a less personalized experience, but having other students to talk to and practice with is a valuable resource for a learner of any language.
Though full-time students make up a large proportion of French classroom learners, plenty of adults enroll in French classes, too. Many cities and communities offer free or fairly cheap language classes, and you’ll be very likely to find them in popular languages like French. Though a full-time job might limit your schedule, a commitment to a once- or twice-weekly French class after work or on the weekends can really improve your French language skills in a measurable way.
Learning French With A French Tutor
Private French tutoring offers a more tailored learning experience than traditional classroom learning with many of the advantages. Having a skilled French tutor at hand who can help you perfect your pronunciation and work with you closely on the aspects of French that cause you trouble is a great way to improve your skills fast — without a teacher needing to split time and attention among multiple students. And French tutoring doesn’t have to be inconvenient at all; many sessions can and do take place over video call instead of in person.
But the often steep costs of such individualized instruction can be a barrier to many learners. Well trained master French tutors often charge high hourly rates for their lessons, so finding a top-quality, budget-friendly option can be challenging.
Software and Online French Courses
There are many top-notch, expert-designed online French courses and programs that run from reasonably priced to very expensive. They allow you to learn French on your own time and are often more interactive and engaging than many free courses and resources. Plus, many of the best products out there are constantly updated with new, fresh material, so you can get the most relevant French learning experience available.
Can You Learn French For Free?
All of the above options have one thing in common: they cost money. For those learners who want to be more conscious of their budgets or are okay to spend more time finding and working with more cost-effective content, there are still plenty of options to learn French for free or for cheap!
Free Online French Courses And Apps For Learning French
There’s no shortage of free French courses, apps and content you can find on the web and on your phone. From French grammar wikis to online forums and French classes, you’re sure to find hundreds of options that might do the trick. Some of them are better than others in the ways they’re organized and how thoroughly they explain new concepts, so take them with a grain of salt.
Be aware that the tradeoff of a free product is that it usually sacrifices quality. Much of the content that’s in apps like Duolingo and Memrise or that’s scattered around the web comes from user-generated translations that are rarely verified and are often inconsistent or riddled with errors. These lessons often focus on writing and reading without much of a way to improve listening and speaking skills. And be wary that free interactive French lessons like these can often be basic, poorly designed, messy, rigid, and just downright boring — not to mention littered with ads.