The #1 Thing You Need to Speak French Proficiently
If you want to be able to comfortably have a normal, everyday conversation in French, you really need to practice speaking and having conversations with people.
Books, classes, apps, and other language learning resources are all great and can be very helpful, but nothing can ever take the place of actually speaking and practicing French with someone.
Just make sure whoever you’re practicing with someone who knows that you want them to correct you and help you learn the language as much as possible. This is key! You won’t make any progress if you keep making the same mistakes over and over.
They don’t necessarily have to be completely fluent or even a native French speaker, but the simple act of using your senses while discussing a topic that has some interest to you is invaluable.
Use Your Senses
When I say “using your senses”, that means that when you use your sense of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing while you speak French, it becomes much easier to learn and later recall what you’ve learned.
For example, when I first moved to France, I went out with a friend here in Paris and she told the waiter, “Je prends un café”, which means “I’ll have a coffee” (Literally “I’m taking a coffee”).
In my imagination, I can still feel the warm summer breeze on my skin, I can see the gibberish scribbled all over the chalkboard menu, I can hear my friend scream out “Je prends un café” amidst the noise of the crowded parisian restaurant.
I remember that phrase to this day because I associated all of my senses with this situation, which made learning/remembering how to order a coffee in French much easier.
Learn French Like a Child Learns English
If a parent were teaching English to a child, I imagine he wouldn’t just hand him an “English for Beginners” book and tell the child to knock himself out. He would show him a reddish, round object and calmly say the word “apple” as the child bites into it. As the parent plays and spends time with him, he would slowly say the word “daddy” while gesturing to himself, indicating that’s how the child should address his father. As he grows older, the sentences will become more and more complex, but everything will still be learned in context. The father is using the child’s senses to help him learn.
It’s Kind of Like Learning to Drive
You can study books, watch videos, and even learn all of your state’s driving laws, but unless you actually get in a car and drive around, you’ll never be a proficient driver.
And it would actually take many hours of driving, making mistakes, and looking silly in front of other people before you’d ever be able to pass a driving exam.
I find that learning a language is very similar.
So if you’ve been studying French for awhile but you still can’t speak very well in a real conversation, it’s most likely because you don’t spend nearly enough time speaking with others. You really need to spend as much time as possible using the language, learning from your mistakes, and getting comfortable speaking French in front of people, even if you don’t necessarily feel 100% ready.
You have to just accept that you’re going to look silly and it might be very difficult at first.
It’s all part of the learning process.
Try to treat it like a game, see the humor in it, and enjoy yourself as much as possible. Otherwise, learning French will drive you crazy.
Have a Goal!
In whatever we do, we should always keep a goal in mind. If you’re trying to speak conversational French in a beautiful, flowing, effortless way, you should really spend a lot of time trying to have beautiful, flowing, effortless conversations in French! It may be very difficult at first, but the more you do it, the more you practice with someone (and as I said, they should also be helping by correcting you as much as they can), you should start seeing progress.
Using this method, you should be able to have basic, everyday conversations and be able to use the French you’ve learned in real situations in about 6 months to a year. And I only know this because I’ve seen it happen with my private French students and people I’ve met while living in France.
If you can devote 5 hours a week to learning French (Daily practice is another important topic, but we’ll discuss that in another article), about 3 of those hours should be spent communicating with someone. That means either emailing, texting, or having a face to face interaction/conversation.
Of course, when you’re emailing and texting someone, you can look up words you don’t know on wordreference.com. Again, using your senses, physically typing and looking up words you don’t know and then writing text messages or emails can really help you by putting the French grammar and concepts you’ve learned into practice.
Which reminds me, you should definitely spend time studying grammar and things like that, but spend as much time as you can communicating with friends in French. I would even argue that really using the language is at least as important as studying grammar, if not more so.
And the best part is, it’s never been easier to find
a French speaker to practice with.
And it’s all free.
Of course, you just have to be creative and be willing to do whatever it takes. You have to want to speak French badly enough and be willing to put in the time and effort to learn this beautiful language.
We actually made a video explaining how you can find a French speaker to practice with on our youtube channel.
As always, you’re more than welcome to ask us any questions you may have down in the comments below.