5 ways to improve your French
Bonjour! Salut! Coucou!
In my last post, I mentioned that learning French is a dealmaker if you want to move to Paris. I have always enjoyed learning languages so for me the learning process for more fun than an effort. Having said that, you need dedication and motivation if you want to be fluent in any language. I can imagine that for some this could be linguistic hardship so I have compiled a list of ways to improve your French.
1. Take French classes at Alliance Française
Alright, my obsession with Alliance Française (AF) is real. I only have good memories of my French classes with them so I highly recommend them. This is not sponsored promotion by the way. At AF, you start speaking French right from level 1 from day 1. They organize lots of cultural activities such as weekly movies, debates, exhibitions, and competitions in French so it is really up to you how much do you want to benefit from all these opportunities. You also have a big library with many French books along with an audio-video library to rent movies (subscription included with your course). AF exists in most big cities around the world so do check them out for French classes. At the end of every level, I also recommend passing the DELF and DALF exams which are recognized by the French Ministry of Education. They are valid for life so when you move to France, they are an asset for your CV and useful when you apply for French citizenship (DELF B1)
If you are considering a private tutor, make sure you are getting enough speaking practice because that’s what is going to get you running in Paris. Writing in French is challenging with all the conjugation spellings but it gets better over time. All hail auto correct in the interim! I tend to focus more on speaking the language than writing as its more fun and you can talk to locals instantly. Don’t worry about writing perfect French initially. Even French people make mistakes in written French. With practice, it gets better!
If you are looking to learn French on a budget, you can also sign up for the municipal classes (les Cours municipaux d'adultes (CMA)) organized by the city of Paris. All levels cost between 40-150 euros. By the way, CMA also offers other courses and languages if you are looking to learn more than French as a language. But before, you will have to learn French because the classes are instructed in French!
I also recommend creating a note to write new words that you learn through various means. You should challenge yourself to use every new word within 24 hours so that they are registered permanently in your brain.
My note looks like this and I still update it. I am sure there are typos because I note down quickly what I hear so forgive me for any errors or cursing!
2. Surround yourself with French people
During my first year in Paris, I lived by myself and realized my French was improving but very slowly. To fix this, I found a private bedroom to rent with a French lady who did not speak any English. This set up is called chambre chez l'habitant. I was forced to speak French more and if I didn’t know the word, I was required to look it up in the dictionary. This way helped me to remember the new word. This is hardcore but worth it!
I studied at Sciences Po Paris. All students there are required to graduate with two foreign languages including English so almost everyone spoke English. You will hear English on campus a lot! I asked some of my French friends to speak French to me and made sure to ask them for words in French if I struggled. This is softcore compared to what I mentioned above with the housing situation because the French students at Sciences Po also spoke English so I didn't need to look for words in the dictionary, they just told me quickly.
This may not be the case for other universities but French people are everywhere! If you are outgoing, you should be able to find French friends. You are also in their country so it would be a bit weird not to have any French friends! This way I was also able to learn colloquial words. Another obvious way that comes to my mind is to find a French bf/gf! You just have to find circumstances which will make you speak French more often in your day. I went about it more aggressively but you can do it at your own pace and take your time!
3. Work at a French company
If you move to Paris as a student, you are allowed to work certain hours per week. You could be working as a part-time babysitter, wait tables in restaurants or serve drinks at a bar. This will create a work atmosphere in which you’ll be interacting with French people from different age groups. When I started my internship at Gide, a French international law firm in Paris, it was a new linguistic experience for me as I learned work-related French, more formal and related to my field i.e. legal French. This was HUGE for me. I remember an associate asking me to bring her a PV of a client. WHAT IS A PV? I asked myself. I panicked and googled the word to find out it means procès-verbal (minutes of meetings). Working at a French company will most definitely help you grasp commercial/ business French vocabulary. It’s easy to improve your vocabulary once your grammar is clear. Working in any capacity will prepare you to speak formal French.
Pay attention to the emails that you get. I used to save some emails as ‘templates’ so that I could copy-paste them in the future (productivity hacks yesss) and make sure my French politesse was on point. There are times when I am not sure if I am polite/diplomatic enough in my emails. In French, it can be very different than in English. English is more direct. I ask a trusted French colleague to review my email and then I learn how to be less direct and still get my point across in French. Also, another new template for French email collection!
4. Find French activities
This is my favorite way because who doesn’t like entertainment? French tv, music, books are great ways to improve your French. I am going to list a few sources that I used or still use to learn new French words.
TV with French subtitles
My recent favorite French tv shows have been Dix pour cent (Hervé is my fav), le Chalet, Plan Cœur and Family Business. They are all different genres so more variety of words! All of them are available on the French Netflix. Pause to note down the new words and phrases.
Watch Hollywood movies and TV shows with subtitles in French. There is less pressure for your brain to concentrate on the audio so more passive learning with the subtitles (assuming you speak fluent English)
Arte is another great free channel to learn European cultural things in French
If you have Spotify, you’ll find tons of French playlists under the France country tab. I am listing a few of my fav French artists!
Vendredi Sur Mer
You can sign up for a HIIT or a Body Combat class at one of the gyms (CMG, Neoness, Fitness Park), it’s a great way to meet French people and you get some workout done too!
For yoga, I cannot stop raving about my Vinyasa flow classes with Cynthia at a studio called MU:V. There are always regulars in these classes so you can find Frenchies easily!
I also love hiking and I am part of this group called Jeunes Randonneurs. You can join them on google groups: firstname.lastname@example.org to get regular updates.
Conquer Your Day (CYD) is another group on facebook organizing running in groups in different areas of Paris!
Reading is another exercise to hone your French skills. I try to read the news (le monde, le figaro, le Canard enchaîné in French more than books, it’s just a personal choice. French people are more aware of world politics compared to other nationalities so it always helps to be on top of your news game.
I am totally guilty of this but it helps!! I try to listen to what people are talking about, discreetly of course, on the metro or in bars. It’s a great way to pick up new words and local expressions.
Pro tip: put your headphones on but don't listen to the music. Nobody will ever know you are listening to them. You could also be Anna Wintour and hide yourself behind black sunglasses so nobody knows you are observing.
French Social media accounts
My favorite accounts to follow are:
Ex relou (Texts from exs French version)
Expatriates Magazine (It’s in English but they post funny things about living in France)
5. Don’t be afraid of mistakes
I hear from a lot of people that they are afraid of speaking French because maybe their accent is bad or they are afraid of making mistakes. If you ever feel this way, just remind yourself that you are making an effort to speak French, it's not your mother tongue, it's ok to make mistakes. I ask French people to correct me as I am speaking because that’s how you’ll improve. The more you speak the more confident you will get!
I would love to hear how you improved your French or any other language you were learning! Share it below in the comments.