How to Learn French on Your Own
Whenever I give advice to fellow language enthusiasts about how to learn a new language on their own, it can sometimes seem fairly wishy-washy and a tad bossy. Based on the general variety offered to us by human evolution, everyone is different, and that means everyone learns a little differently.
There are definitely great tips for all language learners, and I want to share them in this post, but it’s up to you to figure out how, and how much of each strategy, to integrate into your personal French language learning heuristic.
The perfect recipe for learning French on your own
The difference between an algorithm and a heuristic is comparable to following your grandmother’s recipe for tuna casserole with precision (algorithm), versus just winging it, with loyalty to the general sense of the recipe. So, in this analogy, I’m Grandma, and below you’ll find my “perfect” recipe for learning French.
Starting with the alphabet and your very first French words, record everything on hand-written 4cm X 6cm flashcards, and review regularly. Ideally, each card will have the French on one side, and English meaning + pronunciation aid on the other. I like to review by going through the set once, looking at the English side and trying to say and write the target language item. Each item I miss goes into a separate pile, which I drill over and over again until I know all of the cards in the deck.
As I add to the deck, I get to see a physical representation of my progress. That feels good!
Practice daily, but always stop before you’re sick of it. Leave yourself wanting more every time.
Using LingQ? Luckily for you, you can create flashcards instantly as you read through LingQ’s French library. Simply LingQ (click) on new words or phrases and save them to your vocabulary. When you’re ready to review, LingQ will turn you saved words and phrases into flashcards.
I have always found it useful to research and identify some resources (videos, texts and people) on and offline where I collect words and phrases to add to my flashcard deck. I recommend a focus on YouTube primers to start, then expand according to your INTERESTS. If you don’t particularly want to do any banking in French, for example, don’t settle for resources that show you how to do that! It’s important to enjoy what you are doing. I always think of it as learning to be me in the target language (because me is who I am)!
Again, access media and human experiences that focus on you being you in French, talking about the things that you talk about. With French, we have the distinct advantage of easy access to native speakers in our time-zone of North America. Millions of folks like me, whose French-speaking families still live on the continent (mostly in the Canadian province of Quebec) consume and create media that is easily accessible and everywhere online. If you’re in Canada, even easier!
A few simple examples:
→ music videos – Francophone Folk Music is its own genre to explore, if this interests you
→ French language children’s books – perhaps ones you have read in your own first language already? If your first language is English, perhaps you are already familiar with Max et les maximonstres, for example (Where the Wild Things are, by Maurice Sendak)
→ ebooks – insert earbuds and carry on (I wrote up some ideas to get you started here)
→ French language radio – another way to gauge your progress as you understand increasingly more of the daily news
Access thousands of hours of content on LingQ
If you’re looking for a convenient way to discover and store your favorite French content into one place, LingQ can help. From ebooks, to YouTube videos, to graded readers, LingQ’s library is essentially infinite. Not only that, but LingQ also saves you time by allowing you to look up and save new words and phrases instantly.
The picture below showcases LingQ’s (on Android and iOS) unique import feature. I’ve imported a video from YouTube and as you can see, LingQ lets me easily go through the dialogue, save words, and listen to the content’s audio.
This is an extension of input. Once you are in those situations where French people are speaking French about things you like to talk about, it’s time to engage! You’ll find that all of the stereotypes about the French resenting a non-native speaker’s less than perfect usage are myths. In every language, folks are always happy to encourage you and offer free critical feedback to improve your usage.
This is where you’ll likely make lifelong friends with whom you’ll share a rewarding relationship. Of course, there are great resources online where you can find language exchange partners. Language exchange is match-making for the purpose of learning each others’ languages. For example, if you are learning French, you will try to find a partner who speaks French and wants to learn your first language. LingQ’s tutor section (discussed in this post) definitely serves an intermediary function if you feel like you are not ready for this yet!
Don’t listen to grandma!
So, I think I’m grandma in my analogy. And, I think the recipe handed down to me from multiple historical sources is the best ever. That’s why I will often relate my tips as “thou shalts”. But, you are you, and I recommend you read a few articles from randos like me, and gurus like Steve Kaufmann, and, out of all the ideas they share, try stuff out and discover which recipe on how to learn French on your own works best for you.
Whatever skills end up being the most useful for learning French, you can them apply them to your next language!