Born and raised in Paris, I taught French to adults for over 18 years in the Boston area, before returning to France where I offer phone and Skype French lessons and write audio books and French audio lessons. My motto is "communicate first," and my life quest as a teacher is to prepare my students for real interactions in French.
Here are a few tips to help you master today's real spoken French language.
1- Learn French with audio
You cannot learn a living language only with books, especially French. I often say that French consists of 2 languages: written French and spoken French. You write "Il ne fait pas beau," we say "ee fay pabo."
You cannot learn a living language only with books, especially French. I often say that French consists of 2 languages: written French and spoken French. You write "Il ne fait pas beau," we say "ee fay pabo." All my French audio books are recorded using modern glidings, middle ground, so not "too" street French, just the way an educated modern French person would speak.
2 - French movies: yes, but not right away
Trying to understand a French movie for a beginner or an intermediate student is like choosing Mount Everest for your first hike. You are just not ready, you are going to fail, and it will make you feel like crap. Pardon my French...
Building confidence in your ability to understand/speak a language is as important as mastering its grammar and vocabulary. Pick some level-adapted audio material: the Web, YouTube, podcasts... The world is full of great resources created specially for students of French.
That being said, watch as many French movies as you'd like, but as a pastime-- not as a learning tool. You may even get a few words and expressions from them.. You may enjoy my posts on "10 easy to understand French movies" and "How to improve your French with movies".
3 - Master the questions
Did you know there are 3 different ways of asking the same question in French?
- "Est-ce que...?": "Est-ce que tu aimes Paris?"
- Inversion: "Aimes-tu Paris?"
- Street/Informal French: "Tu aimes Paris?"
The street French way is seldom explained in traditional classes or study guides. Unfortunately, it's the most commonly used form.
If it's an "information question," the interrogative expression will be shoved to the end: "Tu habites où ?" (Where do you live?) It is often reinforced by the word "ça": "Tu habites où ça?"
With the modern glidings, the "tu habites" becomes "t'habites" in spoken French; hence the title of this article, "Tabeetousa." The next one is "Tu fais quoi ?" "What are you doing (right now or for a living)?"
Understanding questions fast is the key to any conversation.
4 - Repeat out loud
Again, our generation is not quite used to working with audio - yet. We are still in the passive learning approach: a book teaches us and we write the answers to exercises. This is wrong if you want to learn to speak a language. You need to change your habits. Listen to the lesson, then repeat out loud. Again, again and again.
Repetition is the key to creating "reflexes;" this goes for verb conjugations as much as for word genders and modern pronunciation. Read this blog post for more info: "The best way to learn French for speaking".
5 - Be realistic
How many hours do you spend studying French per week? When I say studying, I'm not talking about casually listening to some French songs as you are driving to work...
Now, quickly, what is your goal?
If your answer is "2 hours" and "I want to be fluent by the end of the year," you have a problem. Unless you are a language genius, learning a language is not going to be like second nature. It takes some hard work. So the first thing to do is to set up short-term, realistic goals. Next, you should create a solid study plan and get help (self-learning material or classes).
You want to be fluent in a year ? Get in full French immersion.
If you are a beginner and study 2 hours per week, you should be happy if by the end of the year you can handle a simple conversation, be polite, and get 20% of what French people say around you.
Accept that you will get what you invest. It's true for life, and it's true for French.