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How to Learn French Fast: 12 Steps to Go From Beginner to Fluent

Kelsey Wetherbee Published on September 12, 2022

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Bonjour! French is the language of love, but trying to learn it can feel more like a bad breakup. Where do you start? Why are there so many verb conjugations? And what’s the deal with those nasal sounds? 

But have no fear! In this article, we’ll look at the steps you can take to start learning French and make it stick. We’ll also look at some common mistakes, and more importantly, how to avoid them. Ready? On y va! (Let’s go!)

Learn French With the Natural Approach

Before we dive into the specifics, let’s take a step back and look at the general approach to language learning. While memorization was popular in the past, thankfully, that’s no longer the case. The Natural Approach is a much more effective (and interesting) way to learn a language. 

In a nutshell, you learn a second language similar to the way a child learns their first language: through exposure and communication rather than focusing on grammar rules and exceptions. Think about how you learned your first language as a baby. 

Did your parents teach you the specific nuances of verb conjugations and prepositional phrases? Probably not. Instead, you picked up on these rules intuitively by being exposed to the language. 

Nowadays, the experts recommend that you learn a second (or third or fourth) language the same way. Let’s look at the stages you’ll go through as you progress in your French studies.

  1. Pre-production: While you might not be able to say anything yet, you’re absorbing the language. Maybe you’ve already picked up a few words from a friend or a movie. This stage is all about listening and processing.
  2. Early production: Once you’ve received enough exposure, you’ll be ready to try a few words and phrases on your own. This generally includes introductions, basic phrases, and common French vocabulary.
  3. Speech emergence: Over time, you’ll notice your words and simple phrases transform into longer phrases and sentences and you’ll be able to express basic ideas. 
  4. Intermediate fluency: While complete fluency may never happen, you will be able to achieve a certain level of speaking and understanding by continued exposure to the language and practice.

As you begin studying French, you’ll naturally work through these phases. It probably won’t happen as fast for you as it does a child learning their first language, but you’ll be able to measure your progress as you go from one stage to the next. The key is to keep at it and don’t be afraid to start speaking from an early stage.

How to Learn French in 12 Steps

Now that you know the technical process behind learning a language, let’s look at some specifics for French. While French is a somewhat easy language for English speakers to learn, it still has many unique challenges that need to be acknowledged, appreciated, and studied.

Start with the ABCs

Since the Natural Approach is all about acquiring a language the way a child would, what better way to start than by learning the ABCs in French? While French and English both use the Latin script, each letter has a slightly different pronunciation, especially the vowels. Learning the alphabet can serve as a foundation that will help you with tricky pronunciation as you move to words and phrases.

You’ll also need to learn the differences in pronunciation. Many French learners are surprised by the nasal sounds that are necessary for correct French pronunciation. For example, the letter “e” in French is pronounced like “uh.” But the sound changes completely when the letter “e” is followed by the letter “n.” It now makes a nasal sound created by pushing air through both your nose and mouth at the same time.

It sounds a bit crazy, but the video below explains it well and gives you tips on how to make these French sounds.

Learn New Vocabulary

Once you have the alphabet and basic rules of pronunciation down, it’s time to learn some words! The good news is, if you already speak English, you already know many French words. While there’s no official number, it’s estimated that English shares 30-50% of its vocabulary with French. I’m sure you already know a few French words like soiree, matinee, ballet, rendezvous, and more.

But of course, you’ll need to learn more French vocabulary. This is an easy and fun stage! You can use an app like Mondly to learn new words in a fun and interactive way. You can also keep a notebook where you write down words that you didn’t know. Some people even label objects in their houses with sticky notes with the French translation. Use whatever works best for you!

Just be careful of false cognates. These are words that sound like an English word, but mean something different in French. For example, “bras” in French is not a female undergarment. It means “arm” in English. Below you can see some other common examples of false cognates between English and French.

  • In French, attendre means “to wait.” It does not mean “to attend” as it appears in English.
  • It’s not rude to demander something in French. It means “to ask.” But in English, we use “demand” as something more bossy and impolite.
  • Another common one is the word sale in French. It is not a discount on clothes at the mall. It means something is dirty.

Start Speaking Immediately

Whether studying French in a class or by yourself, you need to incorporate speaking into your studies. This is often one of the hardest things to do when learning a language. We don’t want to sound silly and we want to say phrases correctly. However, in my 10+ years of language-learning experience, the people who aren’t afraid to make mistakes are the ones who make the fastest progress. 

But, this is easier said than done. But even if you’re learning on your own, there are ways to practice speaking. You can practice out loud, even if you’re by yourself. I like to think about daily situations and practice how I would respond. You can also look for a language meet-up near you or find a language exchange partner on a platform like Tandem or HelloTalk.

Find a Study Method You Enjoy

Finding a study method that you enjoy using is key. Everybody has a different learning style, so it’s important to find a resource that works with you, not against you. Luckily, French is such a global language that there’s no shortage of resources available. If you’re a beginner or your study time is limited, a French language app is a good option.

And, if you’re on a budget, watching French YouTube channels is a completely free resource that’s available to everyone. But if you are financially able, many online platforms can connect you to a qualified French tutor, like italki. This is one of the most effective and quickets ways to learn. To see how long it will take you to learn French, try the fluency calculator below.

How Long Will It Take You To Learn French?​
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Intermediate
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Upper Intermediate
What level do you want to reach?
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It’s All About Listening

When learning French, it’s important to practice all language skills. If you’re using a language app or a textbook, it will be important for you to find ways to listen to spoken French so you can improve your listening comprehension and pronunciation.

There are many resources you can find that will expose you to French in a natural context. One of the easiest ways is to watch French YouTube channels. If you are more advanced, you might enjoy French podcasts that focus on a specific topic that you’re interested in. Or if you’re just starting, FrenchPod101 has thousands of audio lessons for learners from the absolute beginner to the advanced level.

Just remember: If you use an audio source like podcasts, radio, or YouTube, you need to actively listen to get the most out of your study session. Taking notes, looking up new words, and replaying certain parts of the audio will help you absorb what you hear.

Familiarize Yourself With French Grammar 

While the Natural Approach encourages learning grammar in context, some people prefer to learn some specific grammar rules. For example, learning those tricky verb conjugations will take memorization and practice. 

Since it’s different from English, many French learners also struggle with the concept that inanimate objects are assigned a gender and there’s a specific article (le or la) that must be used with each one. Why is a bed (le lit) masculine, but a lamp (la lampe) is feminine? Most of these rules need to be memorized or learned through practice.

Many new French learners also struggle with French verb conjugations. In English, the verb is almost the same for every subject (I go, you go, he goes). In French, every pronoun has a different conjugation. Just look at the conjugation of the verb aller (to go) below.

PronounVerb ConjugationEnglish Translation
JevaisI go
TuvasYou go
Il/EllevaHe/She goes
NousallonsWe go
VousallezYou (plural) go
Ils/EllesvontThey go

Immerse Yourself in French Language and Culture

It’s easy to get stuck on material meant for French beginners. But, to take your level beyond the basics, you need to find authentic material that showcases how French is spoken in a natural context. Luckily, there are tons of resources available so you can find something no matter what you’re interested in.

You can find YouTube channels from French vloggers that show you what daily life is like or videos that show you common mistakes that French learners make. You can also read the news in French, available online from any Francophone country, which helps your reading comprehension while also informing you about what’s going on around the globe.

And, you can also find blogs, websites, and forums in French related to any interest you have, from video games to quilting. Personally, I like to follow French content creators on Instagram and Pinterest. Since I’m already interested in what they’re talking about, I’m more likely to pick up new words related to my interests.

Travel to a French-Speaking Country

When most people think of French, they think of a trip to Paris, France. But the language has spread so much further and is truly a global language. French is spoken in 27 countries across 4 continents. Limiting yourself to the French that’s spoken in France would be a disservice to your learning.

Outside of Europe, the largest French-speaking populations can be found in different African countries and Quebec. Each country has its own unique take on the French language, incorporating words and phrases that have been influenced by the other languages that are spoken in the country.

Quebec, Canada
Quebec, Canada

Don’t Forget About Reading and Writing

Some of the most convenient ways to learn French include language learning apps and French-language podcasts. These are wonderful resources! In fact, I use quite a few of them when I’m studying. But, most of these resources only cover a few of the most important French learning skills. 

While learning on Duolingo can seem like a game, it’s important to remember to develop skills like reading and writing. These skills aren’t often the focus of French learning apps. There are so many popular French books you can read, no matter what your level is. If you’re a beginner, I love to read children’s books or Young Adult fiction. This way, I’m reading French in a natural context, but with the language modified for the level that I’m at. One day, I’d love to read Les Misérables in its original language, but for now, I’ll stick with Le Petit Prince.

Grab a Partner!

To help you practice speaking, you can find a language partner that will hold you accountable for your studies. Even if there aren’t many French speakers near you, you can find an online exchange partner on a platform like Tandem or HelloTalk. You can also look for language exchanges in your immediate area or sign up for a class at your local community college

Even if you don’t think that you’re ready to start talking to someone, you can find a French study buddy who can motivate you and will ask you about your progress. 

If you’re learning with a French language app, many have features that encourage you to keep learning by connecting you with friends, offering incentives for frequent study, or giving you a higher place on the leaderboard. While this might seem silly, I promise you that it’s effective!

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Learning French

Now that you know how to learn French, let’s look at some common mistakes you should avoid when learning the language. Avoiding these mistakes while you begin to learn will save you time and headaches in the future.

Not Setting Realistic Goals

Think about the satisfaction you get when crossing something off your to-do list. The same feeling can be applied to learning French. If your goal is to become fluent, it will take you years and you might get frustrated if you don’t see the immediate progress.

It’s much more encouraging to set smaller, more frequent, goals to encourage you to continue. For example, learning 100 words in French will only take a week or two. Or studying 3x a week for a month is a very attainable goal. Break down the larger goals and celebrate your milestones as you progress.

Only Using One Resource

The perfect resource to learn French doesn’t exist. Despite different apps and online French courses claiming they’re the best option, you’ll need different study methods to make the process more interesting and improve all areas of language learning. 

For example, an app is helpful for learning vocabulary and basic grammar. But to hear language in a natural context, you’ll need to supplement the app by listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos, or listening to the news in French. I like the Coffee Break French YouTube channel because they interview people on the street. It’s a great way to hear French in a natural context.

Translating Everything Literally

While Google Translate and other English-French dictionaries can be incredibly useful, it will be a disservice to you if you try to translate everything literally. Translators are invaluable tools that can help you learn French words and phrases, but they have difficulties when translating longer phrases and paragraphs. 

It’s best to use these translation services for specific words and phrases that you don’t know. There are also so many idiomatic expressions and different French dialects that there’s no way an app can give you a correct translation 100% of the time. Instead, it’s better if you learn new vocabulary and expressions in context. The best way to acquire French in context is to immerse in authentic resources like French TV shows, movies, music, news websites, and more.

Obsessing Over Grammar

Some people hyper-focus on grammar rules, but for others, grammar is the most boring part of learning a language. It’s beneficial to learn some basic patterns and conjugations, but in the end, there are so many exceptions that memorizing grammar rules will only get you so far.

The best strategy to learn grammar is to look at the context in which it’s used. The more you expose yourself to authentic examples and sources, the more likely you are to pick up grammar in context, rather than wasting time memorizing specific rules.

Being Afraid to Speak

This is the most common language-learning mistake and one I struggled with for a long time. No one wants to look silly and sound dumb in front of other people. But, since speaking is one of the most important language skills, it’s necessary to develop it. 

When you begin speaking, French speakers will pick up on the fact that you’re learning the language and will try to help you. Since they already know you’re new to the language, there’s no need to be embarrassed. Chances are, they experienced similar problems when they were learning a language. 

As in most aspects of life, confidence is key, and speaking in a foreign language is no exception. People who are willing to try and make mistakes progress much more quickly in the language than those who hang back and wait for full mastery to start speaking (which will never come).

The Best Way to Learn French is to Start Today!

Learning French is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to enjoy the journey. The right learning tools can make your study time more enjoyable and effective. Using a variety of high-quality resources can help you improve all areas of language. A language app might help you learn vocabulary and grammar, but an online tutor can help you become conversational. If you stick with it, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can master French.

If you want to learn more about the French language and different ways to learn it, be sure to check out Langoly’s French Hub!

How to Learn French FAQ

How can I learn French quickly?

The best way to learn French quickly is to dedicate time every day to studying and practicing. Studying French regularly is key to seeing continuous improvement. You can also use a variety of resources to practice and improve each language skill. For example, a podcast can help you improve your listening and understanding, but you might want an online tutor to help you understand difficult grammar points.

How do I learn French at home on my own?

There are many options available to learn French at home. One of the most popular and effective ways is to use a language app like Rocket French or Babbel. You can also take classes with an online French tutor to improve your listening and conversational skills. There are more modern options like listening to podcasts in French and watching YouTube videos that can expose you to French culture and show you how French is spoken naturally.

How do I learn French fluently?

You can reach a good level of French by self-study, but to become fluent, you will need to practice with native French speakers to improve your speaking and understanding. If you don’t know any native speakers, you can take classes with an online tutor on a platform like italki or Preply. This is a convenient option that allows you to learn from home but speak with someone from one of the many francophone countries.

How do I learn French for free?

There are a few options to learn French for free. Some language apps, like Duolingo, FrenchPod101, and Memrise offer some of their content for free. There are also tons of YouTube channels that feature videos of people teaching the ins and outs of French. Or you can read online French sites that cater to your interests like newspapers, blogs, and Pinterest boards.

Kelsey Wetherbee

Kelsey is the Content Manager and Editor of Langoly. She is a TEFL-certified English teacher with more than eight years of classroom experience in three different countries. She’s an avid language learner with an advanced level of Spanish and is currently studying French. Whenever possible, she loves to travel and enjoys meeting people from all over the world. Connect with Kelsey on LinkedIn.

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