Learning French Online: Speaking, Reading, and Vocabulary
Learning French online is an easy way to introduce yourself to a new language. Whether you are learning French for fun, travel, or business, using the Internet is a great tool to make the process productive and enjoyable. It can be difficult to teach yourself a foreign language, but online tools make it easier. By taking some online courses and doing some real life practice, soon you can ask “Parlez-vous Français?” with confidence!
Benefits of Learning French
French is a language spoken around the world. Although English may have replaced it in many respects as the international lingua franca, French still has its value. (Indeed, “lingua franca” means Frankish language – the word itself refers to French.)
There are nearly 70 million native French speakers in the world, and nearly 200 million total who speak it with fluency. It remains one of the official languages of the United Nations, and you will even find messages for international travelers written in French on the inside of an American passport.
As a French speaker, you can travel from Europe to Africa to the Caribbean and make use of your skills. You can sip a café au lait in Paris, ask for directions in Ouagadougou, or find out the weather forecast in Montreal. But the benefits do not stop there.
You can also read some of the great classics of literature like “Les Misérables” or essays by Michel de Montaigne in the original French. With your French language skills, you can now watch New Wave film classics like “Jules et Jim” or movie favorites like “Amélie” with new understanding. Even your English vocabulary can improve with French skills, as you grasp the meaning of phrases like “avant garde” or “folie a deux” with ease. French fluency can improve your chances of success in business as new markets from Canada to Europe open up to you and your new foreign language talents.
Even if you have no practical goal, learning a new language keeps your brain healthy and elastic. Lifelong learning is a great way to keep yourself feeling young! At the very least, you will have a technique to show off at cocktail parties.
Learning Conversational French
You can first improve your skills by working on your conversational French. By just learning to speak the French language, you will not need to worry about reading, writing, or spelling. You can just pick up enough French to speak in cafés, ask what time it is, or chat with new friends. Learning French conversation skills through an audio-only format will help you focus more on communicating and less on worrying about proper grammar. With just a few lessons online, you too can be ready to order at a French restaurant, ask where the Louvre is while on vacation in Paris, or impress a Quebecois friend during conversation.
Courses that focus on the way French is spoken help you get conversant quickly. These courses focus on the ways you first learned your native language – simply by listening, repeating, and speaking yourself.
We do not learn to speak our own native language by studying conjugations or spelling from a book. As small children, we just hear words and try to speak them ourselves! You might make mistakes but you will improve the more you practice. A few faux pas in a foreign language are par for the course but soon you will express yourself clearly.
For instance, while trying to learn Swedish, I accidentally interjected a completely wrong French word. Instead of asking the clothing store clerk for the “trousers with a little gray in them” I asked for the “trousers with a little pig in them”! (One word can carry such different meanings, alas.) But thankfully the Swedish clerk was polite enough to excuse my misunderstanding and misremembering of the word “gris.” I only realized my mistake some time later as I recounted the story to a Swedish friend.
Taking Your Language Skills Further
Speaking French on the conversational level is the first step to expanding your language skills. But if you really want to improve your abilities and understand more you will need to delve into grammar, spelling, and written French.
Courses in French grammar will not only solidify your skills but will also open you up to so much more to enjoy. You can read French literature as it was intended to be read. From poems to plays to essays, reading the original versions will open up the meaning and beauty of these works. You will be able to pick up a copy of Le Monde and read the news from the Parisian perspective.
There are obviously big differences between the French and English languages. The more you learn about verb conjugations, masculine and feminine articles, and idioms the more fluent you will become and the more able you will be to surmount these differences. Learning a new language can be a humbling experience as you search for le mot juste to express yourself, but the satisfaction that comes when you do make your intention now is exhilarating.
Whether you successfully order a quiche for lunch, find a bus to your intended destination, or explain where you are from, your first conversation in a foreign language is a wonderful experience. Every human has a desire to communicate, and to learn to do that – outside your comfort zone, outside your native language, outside your everyday life – is a testament to the power of learning.
Your hard work will feel so worthwhile even if you are doing something as mundane as ordering a Nutella crepe or buying a museum ticket in another language.
Continuing Your Language Learning
Once you have learned to express basic ideas in conversation, and started to learn your verb conjugations, you will still find there is still yet more to know on the road to French fluency.
Even people who speak with fluency and ease can learn new words. I recall my own high school French teacher – who had lived in the United States for decades – telling us with delight about a new word she had learned. The word was “mallchick,” and though it may not have had much daily applicability to her life, she still enjoyed knowing something new.
Learning a language completely can be a long journey! Any language has obscure words, tricky grammar, and idiomatic expressions that can elude even the most dedicated learner for some time.
Putting together what you have learned to speak in conversation and with French grammar will help cement these lessons in your brain. Sadly, so much of what we learn can be forgotten! We all need to repeat lessons all the time in order to make what we know easily recalled. Using your French in different situations – conversation, reading, watching movies, listening to audio – will help make your hard effort worth it.
Learning any language is a tricky task. As you struggle to express yourself in French, or any other new tongue, you will gain extra empathy for those who struggle to learn English. (And throughout our lives, we can all feel pity for those who endeavor to understand the finer points of English spelling!) Any person who struggles to make himself or herself known or understood through their own effort – no matter how thickly accented or grammatically incorrect – deserves respect.
Because until you become that person asking for the “trousers with a little pig in them” – or that person grasping for the right word for something as basic as “water” – or that person torturously trying to make their tongue twist to strange sounds – you might not understand the difficulties that speaking a new language entails. After you have found yourself humbled to express even the most basic ideas – like how to say “my name is” – you will understand the enormity of learning a foreign language and appreciate all who make the effort!
Building Your French Vocabulary
Of course, no matter how strong your hold on grammar, you still need an adequate arsenal of vocabulary to express yourself. But with a brain already full of the words you know, how can you make room for a healthy supply of new French words?
Memory skill building techniques can help anyone improve their recall and remember more words than they thought possible. Your magnetic memory will attach itself to new vocabulary words with ease, and you can recall them as needed. Beyond simple flash cards and quizzes, these specialized recall techniques can improve your recall in all aspects of life – not just vocabulary.
Knowing grammar and being able to pronounce words are both essential. But to express yourself fully and with sophistication, you will need to expand your vocabulary.
When You Reach an Impasse
Every language learner, from students of Armenian to Xhosa, to pupils of English or French, reaches a point at which he or she feels that he or she has reached the limit of his or her abilities. Learning any new language is difficult, don’t forget! Your brain is already equipped quite well to handle the mechanics of your native language so forcing it to adjust to new grammar, words, and methods of pronunciation can be tiring. It can be challenging. And it can feel unachievable.
That is when you need to break out new methods of how to learn a language. Get creative! If you are strong with the written word then try practicing your conversation more. If the reverse is true – and you are more comfortable speaking – then work on your reading skills. Whether it’s ordering items at a café, watching movies, Skyping with friends, or chatting with a tutor, work on your speaking skills. You can follow recipes from a French cookbook, read children’s books en français, or turn on the French subtitles on a favorite movie to help your reading comprehension.
Most of all, keep up with what you have learned. Learning a language is a wonderful way to sharpen your mind and expand your worldview. Do not be content to coast through life or world travels as an English speaker. We too often rely on the rest of the world to understand us and never endeavor to return the favor.
But learning a language like French can help you share experiences and open your eyes as you travel. I still recall some time years back when I met French travelers in the Netherlands, and they did not speak English. By pulling out my rusty high school French, we were at least able to chat enough to learn about our travels and the city. If not for my French language skills, they would have remained strangers forever.
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