Learning a new language has endless benefits, from boosting job prospects to offering fascinating insights into a different culture. But, like anything worth doing, becoming bilingual is a challenging task. Luckily, French is one of the easiest languages to pick up!
How quickly you learn French depends on many factors such as how many other languages you already speak and how much time you can dedicate to the process. However, we estimate that on average you can achieve a B1 overall assessment level in speaking and reading after 600-750 hours of study.
But what if you don’t have that time to spare? Whether you have a trip to Paris planned or an upcoming meeting with a native French speaker, sometimes there’s a need for speed. There are no miraculous learning techniques to give you instant fluency, but you can follow some useful tips and tricks that will help you speak French as quickly as possible.
You don’t need to learn every French word to speak the language well. According to the Pareto principle, roughly 20% of causes lead to 80% of effects. Therefore, getting comfortable with at least 20% of the vocabulary will allow you to converse in most situations. If you learn 30 words and phrases a day, you could theoretically cover about 80% of the French language you’ll need in 90 days.
To learn French quickly, start with the words which are most frequently used by native speakers. Two of the most common are être (to be) and avoir (to have), the conjugations of which form the basis of many French verb tenses. French “frequency lists” are readily available online, but you should stick to vocabulary which is relevant to your needs or interests to really save time. For instance, if you’re going on holiday in France, work from a list of tourist terms. If you’d eventually like to chat with a French person in a casual setting, check out the top social phrases, and maybe even some slang.
Regularly memorising vocabulary is the best way to learn French fast, but it’s likely that you’ll eventually start to forget the words you learned earlier on. To help you stay on top of all this information, you could organise everything in your own personalised French phrase book. There are several different ways you could arrange your content such as alphabetically, thematically - numbers, emotions, transport etc or situationally - phrases to use in restaurants, while shopping, in emergencies etc.
Not only is this a valuable memory-refreshing resource, but also a handy collection of words and phrases specifically about your life. For example, you could include details about your home, occupation, hobbies and reasons for learning French. The simple act of writing down a word makes you far more likely to remember it too.
Repetition is key when learning languages, but there are plenty of other techniques to help you remember particularly tricky words that slip your mind.
You could try creating mnemonics, a pattern of letters, words, ideas or associations designed to jog your memory. For instance, a common mnemonic distinguishing between au dessus (above) and au dessous (below) is: “If in the air you see a bus, it must be ‘au dessus’. If on the ground you see a mouse, it must be ‘au dessous’”.
Other hacks include spaced repetition, where you review words at particular intervals. If you remember it perfectly, you won’t need to revisit it as soon as a word you frequently forget. Or you could explore the Pomodoro Technique and break your sessions into 25-minute sessions to boost your focus.
Engaging with French culture is a great way to learn the language without even trying. Whether you’re reading French books and magazines, listening to French music, or watching French films and TV shows, these will all increase your progress. Paying attention to the language habits of native speakers could enhance your knowledge of sound, sentence structure, speed, intonation and the relationships between words.
You could also integrate more French into your life by changing the language settings on your phone and social media accounts, or adding translation labels to objects in your house to help you remember them.
Studies have suggested that games can help learners to absorb a new language effectively. For example, researchers from the University of Padua found that nine 80-minute sessions of playing video games improved reading ability more than a year of traditional learning. This tactic is especially beneficial if you consider yourself to be an “active” learner, preferring to be actively involved in the learning process rather than passively listening.
There are countless online games for learning French, and the majority are free to access. As well as being fun and engaging, you could also improve your language skills in as little as 10 minutes at a time.
Of course you can teach yourself a language, but the fastest and most effective way to learn French is by taking professional classes. However, if you really want to pick it up quickly, you could save time by signing up for a French tutor online. Benefits of this method include tailor-made lessons best suited to your needs and instant feedback from your tutor on a regular basis.
Learning French online means you don’t have to wait around for weekly classes. You choose exactly when to have your lessons and how frequently. If you select a service offering teaching over Skype, you’d also get the same experience as a classroom setting. This is very important in terms of things like your pronunciation. A teacher will always be able to provide better guidance if they are able to see and hear you. What’s more, online French classes give you the chance to choose a tutor from a huge pool of expert linguists all over the world.