Tips to Learn French: My Conversation with Accent Français

Bonjour !

What are some practical tips you can use today to practice smarter?
How can you prepare your trip to France?
How can you practice French “at home”?

Today I got the honor of talking about these topics with Julie Lapeyre from Accent Français, an amazing school in Montpellier with great French courses for all levels.

You’ll find all the details about this interview below the video, don’t miss it!

Let’s dive in!

>> If you want to get a class with Accent Français, tell them Comme une Française sent you to get 10% off. 😉

Best Practical Tips to Learn French

1 - Buy an A to Z notebook!

An A to Z notebook, or an index notebook, is called in French un répertoire.

It’s a great tool to start learning French–and to remember all those words you’ve already heard somewhere but that you can’t recall when the right situation arises.

Why it’s useful: Helps you organize all your vocabulary.

When you hear a new word in French, write it down in your notebook on a new page under the corresponding letter. As you learn more about the word, you can expand the note, and make links to synonyms or expressions somewhere else in your notebook.

Example: under the verb “Prendre”, you can write down all the differents ways we use it.
Prendre un café (“to have coffee”) = boire un café.
Prendre une douche (“to take a shower”) = se doucher.
Prendre un croissant à la boulangerie (“to buy a croissant from the boulangerie”) = acheter un croissant à la boulangerie.
Tel est pris qui croyait prendre (“the joke’s on you”).

Your notebook will quickly make your discussions much more elaborate. You can also buy several, in different colors, for different topics, such as la gastronomie française (French cuisine), or les activités (activities.) Don’t use any English, though! Rely on synonyms, definitions… or you can even cut out images from magazines if you want. This will give it a personal, DIY feel!

As Julie said, students often don’t want to start it. The very first step is an effort, it’s true. But once they write their first three words in it, it quickly becomes a useful, fun tool that they love to carry around everywhere.

Bring the notebook when you talk about something you talked about before!

Quick tip: Clairefontaine is a French brand of notebooks you can use. 🙂

Your Turn Now! Homework Of the Day:
Get an A-Z notebook, and start with the verb Aller (“to go”)!
Write down all the ways we use it, alternative verbs you can use for transportation, expressions… You can get some inspiration from our last all-in-French episode about “Allez” if you want!

2 - A Word About Online Tools

There’s no app (that I know of) that can replace a physical notebook. And that’s for the best! A concrete thing you can hold in your hand, will make it much easier for you to actually remember the words you’re writing.

Offline is helpful! On a paper notebook, there are no other, more time-consuming apps to compete for your attention span.

Of course, there are some other great ressources you can find online. I often recommend using le conjugueur, to help you with tricky tenses and conjugations. Reverso is also useful, but it’s not perfect: you can’t rely on it 100%, but it’s a good start, and it doesn’t really try to tell you it’s more than that.

Google Translate has its uses–but also its many imperfections that you need to keep in mind.

3 - Tips to Help You Learn French (in France): Set Your Own Objectives!

You can improve a lot if you practice, and you’ll practice more if you set yourself some funny goals to achieve during the day.

Example:
Parler à trois inconnus chaque jour – Talk to 3 strangers everyday
Faire les courses en français – Buy your groceries all in French, everyday!

Go to l’Office du Tourisme and ask for a sport activity (or an artistic hobby) you could do.
Strike a conversation with a stranger in the transports, for example with: “J’aime beaucoup vos chaussures.” – “I like your shoes!”

Difficulty 1: Breaking out of your comfort zone.
It’s hard. Breathe, tell someone else you’re going to do it (so you can’t easily walk back), and be ready to make mistakes and fail. It won’t be perfect, and that’s OK!

Difficulty 2: Making sure the other person speaks French to you.
It depends on the city and the people you’re talking to, but many times, the French person you’re talking to will switch to speaking English. That’s frustrating! For this, you can look up our How to Prevent a Conversation from Switching Back to English episode, with more detailed scripts and techniques you can use.

How to Best Learn French with Schools and Teachers

1 - What Kind of Student Are You?

Julie observed two main kinds of students, with two different learning styles:

  • Those who like to read, write and practice the language within a formal course, with a proper curriculum.
  • Those who learn more informally, by communicating, trying things, talking, and going to local activities.

When you’re looking for a good school or French course to learn the language, you can try and look for a teaching style that suits you.

Accent Français, for instance, is a school based on more online videos and conversations between students, rather than photocopy and printed material to write on.

Each week, they focus on one specific topic, so that students can prepare the lesson or talk about it with the French people they know.

2 - Good Signs That You’re in Good Hands

  • A test that will put you in the right level, within a group with the same ability
  • A focus on specific vocabulary that will help you reach your goals.
  • Having a real, human teacher that can give you feedback!

When you’re studying on your own, you’ll focus on what you think is important… and quickly, mechanically, you’ll be spending most of your time on the things you actually need the least.

A good teacher will be able to tell you what is important and what is not, and when you should switch topic. “Your French is good enough on this topic, you should switch to something else that will open many more doors for you.” They’ll see where you’re struggling, understand the mechanism behind it, and help you and show you how you can practice the things you need.

Julie’s tip to school: Once you’re ready to start your lessons, go all-in. Trust your teacher. Trust the curriculum. Trust the school!
If you change teachers (or lose interest) when you don’t like their advice, you might get stuck in a vicious circle and you’ll only work on things you don’t need.

Don’t start with pre-made expectations about yourself either. If you fully trust the institution, you’ll get more out of it than if you keep the lesson at arm’s length. Don’t bet against yourself!

3 - Students’ Biggest Mistake

The Biggest, Most Common Mistake of French Learners: Relying on English!

It’s a problem for students across all levels of ability. Inside or outside the classroom, it doesn’t matter: switching to English (or your mother tongue) will hurt your efforts to learn.

That’s why you need immersion. Even for a limited time, even if you’re not in a francophone country right now, it’s important to try and set up an immersion experience. It’s the only way to confront your weaknesses, and remember the things you learn.

Immersion! Immersion Everywhere!

1 - What You Can Do to Have an Immersion Experience, Without Going to a French-Speaking Country

A – Online Tools

You can find French videos online – on Youtube, Netflix, Hulu… Movies and TV shows are a great way to learn more vocabulary. With French subtitles if you want! You can even try the dubbed French version of American movies.

Youtube channels you can use:
Accent français !
Comme Une Française 😉
Alex Vizeo – Travel videos

Authentic material that real French people watch in our everyday life:
France.tv – The public French television channels, online
They have great, quality programs such as Échappées Belles or Des Racines et des Ailes. They can show you new insights on French cities or areas, that will prepare you for your own visits.

Follow famous French people on social networks, such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat…
“Stories” can be a fun way to listen to natural spoken French. Non-teaching sources are great for you!

Look for information about a topic, in French. You can also order a book in French about the next country you’ll visit, for instance.

B – Immersion at home with your family

Great if you want to prepare your family and your children for a trip to France!
What you need is everyday vocabulary.

So why not have un petit-déjeuner français (a French breakfast) for instance?
Speak easy French sentences, such as:
Tu me passes le beurre s’il te plaît ? Can you hand me the butter, please?
Est-ce que nous avons de la confiture ? – Do we have some jam?
Disney movies can be great to watch in their French version.
Or you can read some bedtime stories in French!

C – For you

Try to live for a limited time, all in French. For a day, a week-end or a week.
Only speak French, read French, and listen to French for a few days !
Practice the French way to talk about all the things you do in your everyday life.

A great way to immerse yourself in the culture is through local newspapers. They’re a great way to anchor you in a city, like you’re spending 2 hours in target=”_blank” a French café in Montpellier!

My Introduction to French Newspapers

Some local newspapers:
Ouest France – Western part of France
Midi Libre – Southern France
Le Dauphiné Libéré – French Alps

And while you’re at it, try to notice the Common Clichés in French Journalism!

2 - Immersion in France

Even when you’re in France, you need to be active in your learning!
Passive learning is useful, but it doesn’t work on its own. You’ll be too busy to focus on learning naturally! You need to prepare your plan before your trip.

Quick practical tip:
Before going to a museum, prepare the vocabulary you’ll need beforehand. Then you’ll be ready for a guided tour in French!

Many French museums and monuments can also lend you un audioguide that you can use in different languages. Try to listen to the French version first! Then if you think you didn’t understand everything, you can switch to your mother tongue for some reassurance.

Closing Remarks

Make mistakes! Don’t be afraid. You will make mistakes anyway – the French language is just way too weird.

Try to learn French the way we actually use it in our everyday life. Common situations, scripts for usual conversation, fun expressions, jokes… This is what you can find right now in our free 10-day Everyday French Crash Course, for instance!

You can also get amazing teachers and courses at Accent Français – and you’ll get 10% off if you say you’re coming from Comme Une Française, so go for it!

Your Final Homework:
This week, try to organize un bon dîner français, a nice French dinner! Cook some delicious dishes you can make at home, and speak nothing but French around the dinner table. Even simply un apéro will help you get better at speaking French–especially with a glass of wine or un kir royal. It’s a proven, effective tool to speaking French with more confidence 😉

Et toi ?

What is your favorite practical tip to learn French?

Bonne journée,
Géraldine

PS: You can get all CommeUneFrançaise episodes in handy email form, right in your inbox! You just have to subscribe at this link. Thanks!

Join the conversation!

  • CHÈR Geraldine,
    Sc sont de merveilleux conseils…, mais nous avons besoin d’une formation quotidienne en phontetique. Aide s’il te plait!!:) Merci Beaucoup !!! Tu es une monitrice merveilleuse…!!!

  • I work with new arrivals in France who are going through culture and language acquisition. I recommend that they bring with them a book called “Lexicarry” (lexicarry.com). It’s a book with tons of pictures (no words!) that is a VERY useful tool when getting together with a language helper or partner. It was originally created for people learning English but can be used for any language. If needed, you can get a suggested word list on the site to accompany the pictures, but it’s best to get the vocabulary from a real person because that provides some great language exchange.
    The book has several sections–
    — a section of “comic strip” style images where the people have empty word bubbles so you can make up your own dialogue to fit the picture
    — a section of “comic strip” style images that depict a sequence of events that you can describe
    — a section where the pages are “themed” with multiple images in the same category (e.g. a page of fruit (great for going to the market!), a page of tools, a page of kitchen utensils, etc) to gather specific vocabulary
    — a section where each page is a complex scene (e.g. a living room scene with an open book on the floor, the phone off the hook, the door open, no one present, etc) and you can invent a story about what happened in this scene.
    — a section of idioms and expressions depicted in pictures. The word list available on the web site has both the word-for-word translation (from the English expressions) as well as the correct corresponding French version (for example, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” becomes “l’habit ne fait pas le moine”).

    The book can be used at many levels as well, because you can expand your conversation about each page — when you are a beginner you can talk about very simple things in the picture, but as you advance you can say more advanced things about the same pictures.

    Unfortunately, the book is not ALWAYS available on Amazon.fr but sometimes you can get used copies for not too expensive. Otherwise, Americans can order it directly from lexicarry.com.

    Thanks for your help for people learning French. I frequently send your videos on to my group of learners. 😉

  • MHZ Choice is a streaming service which has programs (series) from different countries. Lots of French series!

  • J’ai un Google Fi android téléphone portable – y-a-t’il un “Ok Google” en français – peut-être “D’accord Google”?

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