Spelling has weight in the written French language. For native French-speaking people, a spelling error is a bad signal: it’s seen as incorrect, a sign of lower education. (And/or is seen as lower class, sadly.)
What does it mean for you as a non-native speaker? Well… It’s not such a problem. People won’t think you’re under-educated. They’ll just understand you’re on your own learning journey. It’s OK to make mistakes!
However, spelling errors can still lead to misunderstandings, and are often easily fixable mistakes.
No matter your level of French, here’s how to improve your written French, thanks to modern technology… and a few tips and explanations!
Learning goals: This is what you’ll be able to do after watching this lesson
→ Know exactly what to focus on when writing in French, at your own level: beginner, intermediate, advanced.
Bonjour c’est Géraldine, bienvenue sur Comme une Française. C’est parti !
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0 - Let’s start on the right foot
- Use ALL the technology you want. No shame in that.
- DO NOT skip a level because you think your French is “too good.” Climb up each section!
- Use this written lesson as a checklist.
I won’t talk about “practices” today. I’m going to push you because I know you can do it.
This is a special lesson for students who are REALLY serious about improving their written French.
If you’re interested in exercises to practice your French writing, let me know in the comment section or in an email! I’m thinking about offering a program on that this year.
1 - Beginners
A – Get your basics right: Greetings + politeness
Don’t write “bon jour” → It’s “bonjour” (= “Hello!”)
Don’t write “cou cou” (or worse “couscous”) → It’s “coucou” (= “Hi!”)
And be sure to learn the use of different greetings, and the politeness attached to them.
For example, know when to use “Bonjour” (= Good day / Hello) and when to use “Bonne journée” (= Have a good day).
B – Check the gender of words.
All French nouns are either feminine or masculine.
There are some limited rules that can help you know if a given noun is feminine or masculine (that I won’t get into now); but really, you just need to learn the gender of the nouns as you come across them.
La table (= the table) is feminine. Le bureau (= the desk) is masculine.
→ I cover all these problems (and more!) in my course French for Beginners
Click here to learn more.
Accents are not optional in French. Forgetting them won’t (usually) break the communication, but it does makes it harder for people to understand you. And it’s a spelling mistake. Find out how to make them on your device.
Mon chien est lavé → My dog is washed
Mon chien est lave → My dog is lava
Bonus point if you don’t forget the accents on capital letters! (Most French people don’t do it, and even I sometimes make that mistake, but it’s still incorrect.)
À Paris, il pleut. (= In Paris, it’s raining) → correct
A Paris, il pleut (= same thing, but with no accent on “A”) → technically incorrect
2 - Intermediate
This is where I’ll push you the most. Take a deep breath!
A – Make Zero Mistakes
→ Aim for 0 spelling mistake on individual words.
Yes, it sounds impossible, but with the spell checker on your phone/tablet/computer, you CAN achieve it.
For example: une mèson (incorrect) → une maison (=a house)
This is the minimum I expect from my students when I correct their homework live on Le Salon de Géraldine.
→ Click here to learn more about Le Salon de Géraldine
I say this is the bare minimum, that shows you care about making an effort with your written French.
B – Les accords : article + adjectif + nom
Any French noun is either feminine or masculine, singular or plural. The same also applies to their adjectives. A change in the noun’s gender and plurality also often changes the adjective’s spelling and pronunciation.
When describing a noun, ask yourself:
Is it masculine? feminine?
Is it singular? Plural?
Every time you need to write a noun / an adjective / an article (like “the” = “le, la, les”), go through them one by one and check if you’re correct. Think about how the sentence would change if the noun’s gender flipped.
Un beau garçon (=”a handsome boy”) → Une belle fille (= “a beautiful girl”)
C – Les accords : sujet + verbe
French verbs also change their spelling and pronunciation, according to their subject.
Take your time to think about the subject of any verb you write. Ask yourself:
Is it masculine? feminine?
Is it singular? plural?
Don’t write Tu mange une pomme → instead, it’s Tu manges une pomme (= “you’re eating an apple.” with a silent “s” to “manges.”)
Tip for intermediate students:
Limit your use of French slang until you’re advanced! It’s hard to get it right in written French 🙂
You can start using my Dictations to improve your writing at your level.
Click here to try “La Dictée” – Dictation 1
Click here to go to “Improve your Dictée” – the Dictation 2
3 - Advanced
This is where the fun starts 🙂
Bad news: you’ll (very probably) never reach perfection with your written French.
My students in my live program Le Salon de Géraldine have an impressive level of French (much more than they think), yet there’s always more to learn.
Even native French speakers don’t know everything, after all. The goal is to always make better mistakes!
A – Last “simple” tip: accord des participes passés.
This is something that French people themselves often struggle with. But it’s not that difficult. It happens when you use the “passé composé”, a tricky tense to use correctly.
The first rule : “être” + “participe passé” (ex: “mangé”, “allé”, “pensé”) → “participe passé” changes with the subject.
“Elle est allé à la plage” is incorrect. “Allé” needs to accord with “Elle” (“she”, feminine singular) → Elle est allée à la plage. (= She went to the beach)
This also applies to “On” (= the French informal “We”), by the way.
Marie et moi, on est allées à la plage.
Mary and I, we went to the beach.
Notice that we use “s” at the end of the participe passé because the subject is plural.
B – Make short sentences.
This is a piece of advice that’s easy to forget, yet it’s very effective.
Shorter sentences = Less chances of making mistakes
Don’t lose yourself in meandering sentences. Cut them short.
You’ll be more clear. Trust me.
Tip for advanced students:
Keep studying: don’t simply translate advanced grammar structure in French. It will get easier as you read more, and “get” how French complex sentences work more instinctively.
For example, try to find examples of how to use a few French segues:
Non seulement = not only
Mais aussi = but also
À mon avis = in my opinion
With the second rule of passé composé (“avoir” + “participe passé”), the “participe passé” does not accord with the subject.
However, it follows the direct complement, if there is one that comes before the “participe passé”. Yup, that’s the rules that gives French schoolchildren nightmares.
J’ai mangé la pomme. (= “I ate the apple”. Correct)
La pomme ? Je l’ai mangée. (=”The apple? I ate it.” Correct, because here, “l’” refers to “la pomme”, feminine and singular, and it comes before “mangée.”)
Et toi ?
→Sur quoi vas-tu te concentrer pour corriger ton français écrit ?
What the #1 element you’ll focus on with your written French?
Tell me in French! 🙂
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