5 Mistakes Commonly Made When (Re) Learning French


Are you trying to pick up French again after a break in learning? Maybe you feel like you’ve forgotten most of your French over the years, or you have simply realized there are some gaps in your knowledge that you finally want to fill.

If you’ve recently peaked your interest in re-learning, congratulations! I’m delighted that you’re here, and I have many lessons that will help you keep your brain working, reconnect with the French you already know, and refresh your knowledge with modern vocabulary.

But first, let’s cover the most common mistakes that people make when deciding to relearn French, so you can avoid them in your own learning journey.

C’est parti !

1) Starting our re-learning journey at the level we think we have (or we had before)

If you learned French at school several years (or even decades) ago, it’s tempting to skip the first few levels when coming back to the language. You might think you probably remember all the basics, after all.

But in reality, there’s a lot of things you probably forgot! And even what you do remember can be quite hazy.

But you’ll get a lot out of having really solid foundations. And this time, (re)learning them should be easier.

I recommend using resources that will guide you through the beginner level. For example, I really like the excellent books of CLE International, especially for beginners, such as:

After you have nailed down the basics, then you can gradually climb back up to the intermediate or advanced level you had before.

** Le truc en plus **
Vocabulary :

  • Reprendre le français (= taking up French again)
  • À peu près (= more or less)
  • Les débutants (= beginners.)

Click here to find everything from CLE International:
Books by CLE International

For instance, you’ll get much further in French once you’re confident with:

a) Basic conjugations

Regular verbs and a selection of irregular ones, such as learning le présent (= present tense) for :

Marcher (= to walk, regular 1st group verb)
Je marche
Tu marches
Il marche
Nous marchons
Vous marchez
Elles marchent

Être (= to be)
Je suis
Tu es
Il est
Nous sommes
Vous êtes
Elles sont

Avoir (= to have)
Tu as
Il a
Nous avons
Vous avez
Elles ont

Pouvoir (= can, to be able)
Je peux
Tu peux
Il peut
Nous pouvons
Vous pouvez
Elles peuvent

Prendre (= to take)
Je prends
Tu prends
Il prend
Nous prenons
Vous prenez
Elles prennent

Click here to learn more:
7 Common French Verbs You Need To Know

b) Tenses, and when to use them

Things like using le subjonctif (= subjunctive mode,) as in:
Je suis contente que tu sois là. (= I’m happy that you’re here.) and more.

Click here to learn more:

c) Building negative sentences
Using ne […] pas in negative sentences, like: Je ne suis pas sûre. = I’m not sure.

d) Building a question
Correct French questions use:
l’inversion (= inverting subject and verbs) like: Le musée est-il ouvert ? (= Is the museum open?)
– or Est-ce que (= “Is it that… ?”) like: Est-ce que le musée est ouvert ? = Is the museum open?

Click here to learn more:

e) Basic French pronunciation

Especially the weirdest sounds like the French “u” sound, French “R”, or the nasal vowels like an – in – on !

Click here to learn more:

All of this can be a bit overwhelming, but with a good method and a little bit of regular practice, it will give you a solid foundation for the rest of your learning.

But textbook French is not all there is.

2) Only learning formal textbook French

In everyday life, real French people don’t speak “correct,” textbook French. The rules of real spoken French are a bit different. But you can learn some of them!

Il y a des règles dans le français parlé ! = There are rules in spoken French!

Learning them will help you understand French conversations in real life and in movies or TV shows. And you’ll sound less formal and stiff.

Click here to learn more with my structured programs dedicated to this topic:

With things such as:

  • l’argot et les jurons (= slang and swear words), which slang is OK to use in common French and which words are actually very rude.
  • Couper le “ne” (= dropping the “ne”) in negations, where Je ne suis pas sûre. (= I’m not sure, in textbook French,) actually becomes Je suis pas sûre. in everyday informal French. If you say “Je ne suis pas sûre”, it really sounds like you’re trying to be formal.
  • Pronunciation: sauter le “e” (= skipping the “e”) in small words, or whenever we can. So we would actually pronounce (but not write) : J’suis pas sûre. And it even sounds more like Chuis pas sûre.

The same thing happens to the formal Je ne sais pas. = I don’t know, that’s often pronounced in spoken French: Chais pas.

3) Not learning new vocabulary and context

Context changes, and there’s always more to learn. You learned French in one context: in school in the 1970s, or in a sabbatical in Belgium, as une jeune fille au pair (= an “au pair”) in Provence, or whatever it was. Well, since then, language has changed – and what you need has changed as well.

Which is fun!

But now, you might need, for example to:

  • update your understanding of French slang for watching a new Netflix show,
  • maybe brush up on your sports vocabulary in preparation for les Jeux Olympiques (= the Olympics Games), in France,
  • or even dive deeper into formal French culture, for instance because you want to listen to une émission littéraire (= a literary TV program.)

Anyway – learning the right vocabulary will help you have more interesting conversations with French people, about everything you care about.

And some vocabulary will help you no matter what. I have several lessons on words that are all-around useful in everyday spoken French.

Click here to learn more:

** Le truc en plus **
For advanced French learners, one literary program that I really like is Le Masque et la Plume, a public radio program about cinema, theater and books, that’s been running for almost 70 years now! Every week, in front of a live audience, several critics review the newest things and share their analysis.

Click here to check it out:
Le Masque et la plume par Jérôme Garcin sur France Inter


4) Assuming every French speaker wants to be our practice partner

French people don’t really know how to deal with French learners.

It’s probably not limited to French people, and maybe we know what we should do but don’t bother. Whatever the case, the thing is: in your relearning journey, you might not get as much support as you’d like, from French people.

For instance, if you ask them a question in French, they will and often do answer your question in English. Even if their English is barely understandable.

If there are more than one of them, they’ll quickly start talking in French at normal speed – in other words, way too fast.

On the plus side, they’re not as bothered by your mistakes as you might think. We all know that French is difficult, and it’s flattering that you’re trying to learn it. So don’t worry about your mistakes: keep trying to communicate!

They don’t want to be your practice partners, but they do want to get to know you as a person! 🙂

That’s why courses and “official” practice partners are such a must.
Thankfully, even if you’re visiting France, you can find some lessons and practice partners quite easily, especially online. Like my very own French Conversation Club !

Click here to learn more:
The French Conversation Club – Talk with a real French teacher

Otherwise, you can also try to ask them to slow down:

  • Vous pouvez répéter ? (= Can you repeat please?)
  • Vous pouvez répéter plus lentement ? (= Can you repeat, slower?)

Notice that it’s lentement (= slower,) not doucement (= softer, quieter).

5) Getting bored, by using boring methods

Classic methods have their use, as we’ve mentioned before.
But at some point, you’ll need to mix-and-match, with what actually interests you personnally. Explore resources that speak to your hobbies and interests, and drop what doesn’t – you’re not in school anymore, so now you can choose!

For example:
Le jardinage = gardening

La cuisine = cooking

  • Des recettes de cuisine (= cooking recipes)I myself use marmiton.org
  • Le Meilleur Pâtissier (the French Bake-Off TV show),
  • La Cuisine des Mousquetaires – a cult-classic TV show where the woman host, Maïté, with her Southern accent and her sincerity, prepares and tries out traditional French recipes, often very hearty or surprisingly hardcore (Archive on YouTube)

L’histoire de l’art = art history

Other resources:

Click here to learn more (Comme une Française lessons):

And now, good luck on your new learning journey!

Click here to learn more about French misconceptions:

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!

→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂

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