How to Learn French

Four Methods:Getting AcquaintedUse an Object TranslatorStart a ProgramKeep At It

French is a language spoken fluently by approximately 175 million people worldwide. Although originating in France, today it is spoken in all different countries all over the world, and officially in a total of 30. It is the second most frequently taught language in the world after English--thus, the reasons to learn it abound. This guide will help you on your journey to speak French.

Method 1
Getting Acquainted

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    Buy a dictionary. This is le premier step to starting a new language. Whenever you run into un problème, you'll be able to get back on the right path within seconds.
    • The Collins Robert French Unabridged Dictionary or the LaRousse Concise French-English Dictionary are both good standards. Of course, if you're not thinking to get too heavily involved, a pocket dictionary will suffice.
    • There are tons of websites out there that act as dictionaries. Be careful! They're not always correct. is a good place to start. Always exercise caution when translating complete sentences.
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    Take advantage of technology. With all les options out there, this is easier than ever. Of course, your local library is a sturdy option, but you can find resources in the comfort of your own home.
    • iTunes offers free 24/7 radio stations and podcasts that are in French (some for beginners!) and most cable packages will have at least occasional French programming.
    • There are many mobile apps that can help you memorize words - the most popular one is LingLing based on spaced repetition - you can spend 20 minutes per day to memorize 750 words monthly.
    • YouTube has dozens upon dozens of resources for French beginners.
    • Amélie isn't the only French movie out there. Go to your local video store or do some research on the net--sometimes more obscure ones (or documentaries) can be found for free.
      • View your favorite English movies with French voiceovers or subtitles. Even if you don't know French at all, picking a movie you're familiar with will help establish context for the language.
    • Watch the "French in Action" program on your local public broadcasting station.
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    Label objects in your home. Sure, you sat down to memorize words like "chair," "window," and "bed," but a week later they escaped you. Labeling the objects in your home creates long-term memories that can't be easily forgotten. Either create your own or buy an off-the-shelf product - FlashSticks. They produce colored flashcards (blue - masculine; pink - feminine). Recently, they have launched FlashAcademy, an app that brings effective language learning and fun together.
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    • Remember to include the gender! French has two: masculine and feminine. This will be handy when you want to refer to it by the pronoun later.
      • It's "la chaise," "la fenetre," and "le lit," by the way. Go grab your pen now!
    • Include the pronuncation on the side, if you need help remembering.
      • l'ordinateur - lor-dee-nah-tur - Computer
      • la chaîne hi fi - shen-hi-fi - Stereo
      • la télévision - tay-lay-vee-zee-ohn - Television
      • le réfrigérateur - ray-free-zhay-rah-tir - Refrigerator
      • le congélateur - kon-zhay-lah-tur - Freezer
      • la cuisinière - kwee-zeen-yehr - Stove

Method 2
Use an Object Translator

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    Use an app that it will scan, recognize and then translate the items. Such an app is FlashAcademy. They have a built-in object translator. Just point your camera at an object, take a picture and it will recognize then translate the object into any language.

A good way to go around this is to scan the objects in your room because you know them very well and just try to randomly remember. This is a great tool to enhance your vocabulary. Amazing tool to have when traveling. Just go out and scan everything!

Method 3
Start a Program

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    Buy a learning tool. Some require a hefty fee, some do not. Ask around for une opinion or if a friend has a set of CDs or a program you can borrow. Popular options are Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, or Michele Thomas. Every program is best for a different type of learner.
    • Pimsleur does not give you a book. It's a set of CDs--good for aural learners and those with long commutes. It does use English and allows you to translate. It utilizes backchaining, as in, "porte," "la porte," "-ez la porte," "Fermez la porte," to practice pronunciation.
    • Rosetta Stone is a computer program and does not allow any English and relies heavily on pictures. It plays memory games and is ideal for visual and sensory learners.
    • Michele Thomas (on CD and YouTube) advocates a slightly different style of teaching. He emphasizes patterns in language and utilizing cognates. You start with one basic sentence, such as, "Je vais au restaurant," (I am going to the restaurant.) and he leads you to, "Je vais au restaurant ce soir parce que c'est mon anniversaire." (I am going to the restaurant tonight because it's my birthday.) Your vocabulaire expands as you build on the blocks you already have.
    • is another site which trains you in French: memorizing by training to translate (English-to-French; and French-to-English), listening comprehension and more.
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    Take a class. The best way to learn a language (apart from living in the country, of course) is to practice every day with others. Taking a class forces learning into your schedule, holds you accountable, and gives you resources in others that you wouldn't otherwise have.
    • Check out your local community college or university. Though the class might be more expensive, the perks of being a student and having access to the facilities lessen the blow to your wallet.
    • Find a language school. These classes are often much cheaper, smaller, and offered on nights or weekends. If you live in a fairly diverse area, one shouldn't be too far away.
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    Get a tutor. The internet is a beautiful thing. Loads of people are looking for an easy way to make an extra $50 a week. You can cater the learning to your schedule and develop your own curriculum.
    • Don't let just anyone be your tutor. Just because you can speak the language does not mean you can teach it. Aim for someone who has done it before, not someone with four years of high school French.
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    Join a group. Odds are there are loads of people just like you of all demographics and ages. Visit your local area colleges or language institutes for information.
    • Practice with someone. You can find a penpal online or you can visit your local chapter of the Alliance Française. Delve deep into your online contacts for anyone who might be able to move you forward--that friend from high school who studied abroad? Your cousin Alberta who moved to Vancouver? Do whatever you can to guarantee success.

Method 4
Keep At It

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    Practice every day. Learning a language is unlike learning any other subject. Your knowledge must build and become as intrinsic as possible. Practicing every day is the only way you'll be able to maintain and improve your skills.
    • Incorporate review in your learning until it's solid. You cannot build complex sentences if you've forgotten how to structure simple ones.
    • Even if it's just for half an hour, it's worth it. Get your mind thinking en francais. Developing habits makes it harder to quit.
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    Learn cognates. Depending on your source, about 30% of all English words originate from French[1]. If you're just beginning, an easy way to dive in is to familiarize yourself with the concepts.
    • Often, the "fancier" verb is French and the "normal" verb is German. Think "start" versus "commence"; "help" versus "aid"; "understand" versus "comprehend." The French for those verbs is, respectively, in their infinitive form, "commencer," "aider," and "comprendre."
    • Certain word endings are giveaways that they're French. Think words with "-ion," "-ance," or "ite." Television, billion, religion, nuance, endurance, granite, opposite -- those are all French words. Not English. French. Well, English, too.
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    Memorize new phrases. Never let your vocabulary stagnate. As your knowledge grows, take time to incorporate new phrases into your phrasal pool.
    • Think of a new topic. If you're lacking in time vocabulary, zero-in on that department. If you need to learn the names of food, concentrate on that. Expand yourself.
      • Quelle heure est-il? (What time is it?)

        Bon, euh, je ne sais pas...(Uhh, I don't know...)

        Oh, non! Il est déjà 17 h! Je dois étudier mon vocabulaire de français! (Oh no! It's already 5:00! I have to study my French vocabulary!)
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    Review verb conjugations. The biggest difference between English and French is that French conjugates their verbs to match the tense and subject. Generally speaking, verb charts go in "I, you, he/she/it, we, you (plural), they" order.
    • Start with the simple present of -er verbs (manger - to eat):
      • Je mange - tu manges - il/elle/on mange - nous mangeons - vous mangez - ils/elles mangent
    • Simple present of -ir verbs (choisir - to choose):
      • Je choisis - tu choisis - il/elle/on choisit - nous choisissons - vous choisissez - ils/elles choisissent
    • Simple present of -re verbs (vendre - to sell):
      • Je vends - tu vends - il/elle/on vend - nous vendons - vous vendez - ils/ells vendent
    • Often, the ending of words is not pronounced. "Je choisis" sounds more like "Zhuh schwazee," and "ils mangent" sounds like, "eel monge."
    • Learn the other tenses later. Once you've mastered the simple present, continue onto the passé composé (past tense).
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    Think out loud. If you're around others, they might get irritated, but it's worth it! They don't have to understand you, only you have to understand you. It's a bonne idée, isn't it?
    • French is a language that's highly encorporated into English. In addition to using simple phrases like, "Bonjour!", "Merci beaucoup," or "Je ne sais quoi" that some people know, use slightly more difficult ones when talking to yourself -- or let your roommates catch on!
      • Où est mon sac? - Where is my bag?
      • Je veux boire du vin. - I want to drink some wine.
      • Je t'aime. - I love you.
    • If you say to yourself, "Oh, I see an apple!" translate it to French - "Oh, je vois une pomme". Practice this whenever you get a chance - in the car, in bed, in the bathroom, everywhere.
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    Travel to a French-speaking country. If living there isn't an option, then visiting is the second-best. If you have the finances and ability to take des vacances, bring your books and CDs with you!
    • Talk to the locals and experience the culture. Sitting at the McDonald's next to the Louvre (or the Starbucks, for that matter) won't exactly get you the educational or cultural experience you're looking for.
    • You don't have to go to France to find a wealth of French speakers. However, know what dialect you're looking to mirror; going to Quebec will expose you to a French culture, but you'll hear Quebecois down the street--and it may be hard to understand!


  • Have a positive attitude. Sometimes, you may be discouraged and forget why you wanted to speak French in the first place. The reality that 175 million people worldwide speak French is a good motivation. Also, think how few people are monolingual these days - two or more languages is more and more the norm.
  • Understand that learning a language is a full time commitment. If you muck around with it and only learn bits and pieces, you will likely regret this later in life when you actually want to converse in French.
  • Invest in a good Bescherelle. This is a book with every verb for quick and easy conjugation. French speakers swear by these.
  • For easy reference, keep a notebook handy in which you can write vocabulary that you come across. Seeing that huge book full of words and phrases you know will give you a confidence boost to keep on learning and loving French!
  • You can find native French speakers on many websites, such as Students Of The World. It'll be easier to make friends and improve your French. Ask them to improve your skills and you'll teach them English in return.
  • At the store, count how many fruits you're putting in the cart in French.
  • Print or buy a French calendar and replace your regular calendar. So whenever you look at the date, you'd quickly learn French numbers, days, and months. And when you write in events, look it up in your dictionary and write in French.
  • Make French the first thing you see on your computer. Get your homepage to be a French website.
  • Consider France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, Québec, New Brunswick, or Louisiana, among others, for your travel destination.
  • Try hard put in the effort required and eventually you will get it. But it will take time.


  • Learning a language is a difficult, time-consuming endeavor. You will get nothing out of it if you cannot fully commit yourself.
  • Watch for masculine and feminine as well as plural nouns for verb and adjective matching.

Article Info

Categories: French