What You Should Know Before You Learn Basic French

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Learning any new language can be daunting, let alone your attempts to learn basic French.

If you are a native English speaker, then your mind automatically turns to either learn French, Italian, Spanish because they are traditionally the easiest languages to learn.

This is certainly due to the dominance of these languages throughout the last few hundred years.

Business and trade encompassed the first motivation to learn a new language, with tourism a close second. These needs have meant much more opportunities to learn basic French and the other languages with a traditional teacher in your local area.

How often are you going to be able to find a Korean teacher locally if you don’t live in a large city?

We also have a much greater appreciation and knowledge of the French, Italian and Spanish cultures – the fact that we know more about these cultures and countries means that we are more likely to recognise things quickly whilst we learn these languages, and our apprehension and stress are lower.

Most native English speakers want at least to learn basic French before speaking to French native speakers, and they know it will help them in their business and travel because the French are notoriously bad English speakers.

Here are a few things you need to know before you start.

It is ok to make mistakes

Accept that when you start out, you will make mistakes.

The problem in learning a language is that you know it is to communicate with another human being, and so you worry you will look and sound stupid.

It is much easier to accept your mistakes while you learn the guitar or learn to sew because you can mostly do it by yourself, and no personal interaction is needed with someone else.

Learning basic French is far different. It is more of a challenge and you know this from the start. So it is easier to procrastinate and not do it because you know it will be hard.

I’m sure you have read enough self-help articles and books and seen enough videos to know that if you don’t try, then you don’t succeed. No pain, no gain.

Learning French, however basic at the beginning, is the same thing. Just get going, embrace the difficulties, and get going learning how to pronounce the French language alphabet.

Your accent matters

understanding french accentI know dozens of native English speakers that speak perfectly proficient French, have great basic French vocabulary, but are very difficult to understand because their French accent is so bad.

You can have perfect vocabulary and grammar, but if you can’t say the words properly, then many French people will raise their eyebrows because they don’t understand.

You can do a fun little test by reading any French text with your native accent. It sounds incomprehensible, and this makes sense.

Speaking French is not about just the learning basic French vocabulary, it is also about learning to speak the language, and this includes how you speak just as much as what you speak.

So make sure that you spend time working on your speaking muscles to get some of those tricky sounds under control.

Be prepared for a few structural surprises

The good news is that the structure of French language is based on Latin, and unlike English, French has far less idioms and expressions, and exceptions to rules. There is no “i after c except after e” for example.

It will take you longer to learn the structure as it is more complicated. Remember, English is a language based on the necessity for lots of different cultures to communicate quickly with each other to trade.

It is based on the efforts of the Saxons, the Jutes, the Angles, the Vikings and the Normans, and English evolved over a long period to become a simple language of which is very easy to learn the basics.

French had less external pressure, and so it’s structure has remained quite classical.

So it will be a surprise to learn all these new rules, and it will be harder up front, but the pay off is that once you have learned them, they don’t change much, and you will even, given time be able to guess new words based on your existing knowledge.

Find someone to practice French conversations with

This is incredibly important because practice is one of the forgotten aspects of French learning. Even if you want to learn basic French, you have to practice too.

You can do a 1-hour a week class with your French tutor, and do your homework, and watch a good French film, but if you don’t have anyone to practice with, then how do you expect to get ready in time to ask the baker for your first “Pain au chocolat”?

Practice makes perfect goes the saying. I don’t supposed you’ll every be perfect, but you will certainly improve if you find someone to practice French with.

If you don’t know a local French native speaker, then you can find them online, just type in “find a partner to practice French with” in Google.

Conclusion to help you to learn basic French

You should now have understood that before launching into a new French course there are a few conditions of which you need to take into account. Think about the psychology of learning, and how important it is to keep motivated.

There will be surprises on the way, but you need to stick with it, and before long your beginner French speaking will be flowing wonderfully!

If you have any other things you’d like to mention to help other French learners that they need to know before starting, please comment below.

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I am an British/English expat living in France. I've been here since 1997, I speak fluent French and I just love France! I blog with articles on living in France with tips on living here and learning French.

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