Learning French is an exciting journey that allows you to delve into the culture and history of the French people.
This article is for anyone interested in French. This amazing, beautiful language is extremely demanding of those who learn it. We want to help you. Beginner or intermediate — here you will find tips on how to master langue française. Bon chance!
Features of the French language
Double trouble. There are only two genders in French: masculine and feminine. This is an advantage, because you don't need to memorize the neutral one. The downside is that all adjectives, numerals, pronouns, verbs, and verbal forms agree in gender and number. At the same time, it is impossible to determine the gender of a noun without an article. You just need to know: male or female. Spoiler: nouns with the ending -tion are usually feminine (la révolution, l'inscription, la libération, etc.). An example of agreement of two words:
Chapeau, m. — hat;
Chemise, f. — shirt.
Part of speech
Agreement by the gender of the subject. In French, the possessive pronouns have gender, which is decided by the subject. For example, “my coat” would be son manteau — son is a masculine pronoun, and is usedbecause the word manteau is masculine.
Bizzare numerals. In French, numericals are formed a bit differently than in English. We form them by essentially saying “so many tens and a number,” except for anything smaller than 13. Think about it — twenty-two (2×10+2), fifty-seven (5×10+7). In French, things are more complicated. For instance, the threshold for uniquely-named numbers is 16, not 12. Only then do the French switch to the “tens + another number” system, and it goes for round numbers as well. However, 80 is not “eight tens” — it’s “four twenties” for some reason, and there are many more surprises waiting for you. Overall, learning to count in French is an adventure in its own right — see the table below.
Ten (plus) seven
Ten (plus) eight
Sixty (plus) ten
Four (times) twenty
Four (times) twenty (plus) ten
Un mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-dix huit
One thousand nine hundred four (times) twenty (plus) ten (and) eight
French pronunciation. The phonetics of the French language gives it a special charm. Nasal vowels, grassed r, combinations of consonants and vowels — all this creates the beauty of de la langue française. Some even joke that in French, pronunciation is more important than meaning. At the same time, you will hear grumpy remarks from language learners about how the French are terribly distorting foreign words.
Merging. Another feature of French pronunciation is called liaison. This is a phonetic linking of consecutive words. It does not happen randomly, but according to rules. If a word ends in a consonant and the next begins with a vowel or a voiceless h, they are linked and read as one. For example, six heures sounds like a single word — [sisœ: r], and six hommes — [sisɔm].
Fixed stress. One of the clear advantages of the French language is its constant stress on the last syllable. Whichever word you choose, the rule is the same. Although sometimes the stress changes in colloquial speech — depending on intonation.
Lots of words for nothing. The French love their language, so they use as many words as possible, even where they are not needed. The most striking examples:
Subject repetition — Moi, je pense, que (I, I think that);
The word que in different variations — Qu'est-ce que je dois faire? (What should I do?)
Two negative particles ne and pas around the verbs — Je ne suis pas contente (I'm not happy).
Diacritical marks. The symbols over and under some of the French letters show how pronunciation changes. The word français itself has a diacritic mark. It means that the letter [c] is read as [s].
18 times is not the limit. If you thought that the twelve tenses of the English language is a lot, get ready for a ride. There are more than eighteen of them in French (some count twenty-one). But even without an exact number, it is clear that agreeing verbs in every tense and mood is still highly enjoyable. There is even a form that is only used in literary language, such as magazine articles. It’s called the Passé Simple. You also need to be able to distinguish it in written speech.
How to learn French on your own?
French is not the most difficult language. It is quite possible to learn it on your own. Especially if you already speak English or Italian. With the latter, they share Latin roots, and in the former, there are many words borrowed from French. In this section, we will give you some tips on how to learn the perfect langue française.
Start with phonetics. Yes, just like in school. We ourselves do not like such methods, but they suit the French the best. You first need to understand the reading rules. Understand why beaucoup reads as [bo-koo], and qu'est-ce que ça as [kes-ke-sey]. And only then can you start learning French vocabulary. If you immediately start learning words by ear, there is a chance that you will face a problem: it will be difficult to match pronunciation with spelling. Nobody can just guess that [ohm] is written as homme.
Enjoy learning. The main secret in learning any language is to practice the way you like it. Bored of cramming grammar? Throw the blasted textbook aside and do something fun. Watch TV shows in French, listen to and memorize songs, read books or comics. If you are a full-fledged student, then grammatical constructions cannot be avoided, and Subjonctif will catch you, too. But after all, it can also be looked at through engaging examples.
Don't be afraid of mistakes. It is impossible to learn a language without practice. Feel free to mispronounce words. No matter what jokes go about the French, no one will turn their backs on you because of an error in pronunciation. Most likely they will praise everyone who dares to learn their great and beautiful language.
Practice every day. Learning a foreign language is 20% understanding of grammatical concepts and 80% practice. Give French at least an hour every day. Or 30 minutes, or even 15. The main part is not to forget about it. It is enough to listen to an audio recording on the way home or rehearse out loud the recently learned phrases.
Surround yourself with French. Immersion in a language environment is the most effective way to learn a foreign language. Create your own French world: switch all your gadgets to it, change the keyboard layout, speak, listen and think in French.
Vocabulaire — How to learn French words?
We all know "merci" and “bonjour.” But it’s not enough to speak French. Once you've mastered the reading rules and the basics of grammar, it's time to start building your vocabulary. The question arises: how to do this?
Look for familiar expressions
English has many words from French. Some of them have the same meaning, making them easier to remember. For example:
Facade — une façade;
Omelet — une omelette;
Mise-en-scène — une mise en scène;
Jacket — une jaquette.
A complete list of easy-to-remember French loanwords can be found here. But be careful. In addition to them, there are also false friends. For example, the word synthétiser means "to summarize," not “synthesize”, and pain miraculously means “bread.”
Still, there are plenty of similar vocabulary and even grammatical forms.
Learn the gender of words
It will protect your nerve cells in the future. To inflect words correctly in French, you need to know the genders of the nouns. Better to memorize them right away. Otherwise, later you will frantically try to recollect: is it sa maison or son maison, bellerobe or beaurobe.
A great way not only to learn a foreign language, but also to urgently remember something. Let's say you have 10 new words. Take them all and come up with a text or a couple of sentences. It doesn't matter how usable they are, the point is to create a memorizable image. Let's give an example:
Un chat — acat;
Acheter — buy;
Des petit pois — peas;
Une tasse — cup;
Une aubergine — eggplant;
Rêver — todream.
We make a sentence: Un chat rêve d'acheter une tasse de petits pois et d'aubergines — Acat dreams of buying a cup of peas and eggplants. Weird? Yes. But super picturesque.
For that method, you need to know grammar: how words are connected through prepositions, articles, and verb forms. It is better to both write and pronounce sentences.
Use new knowledge in speech
The fastest way to remember words is to say them out loud. So you do two things at the same time: you learn new things and add them to your active vocabulary. You can know 10,000 French words passively, not using them in real life. This is a bad school habit. There they gave us a list — we crammed it only to forget later. You have to do the opposite.
One of the variants of this method is retelling the texts based on new words. Let's say you read the article, then wrote down and sorted the unfamiliar phrases. Now, instead of cramming, retell the text using each one. It is effective learning through the use of words in context.
Learn not words, but phrases
Because of the liveliness and fluidity of French speech, sentences merge into one. Native speakers muffle the beginning, middle, end, or even the whole word. Therefore, we advise you to learn not single words, but fixed expressions with them. There are enough of them in French. For example, n'importe quoi — anything (slang: "oh everything, no difference, some kind of nonsense") or je n'en sais rien — I don't know. And it is better to learn verbs right away with prepositions of control à, de or without:
aider quelqu'un à faire quelque chose — to help someone do something;
avoir besoindequelque chose — you need something;
vouloir fairequelque chose — to want to do something.
Phraseological units are loved in France, so learning the relevant ones is pivotal to success in mastering the language.
Memorize through pictures
This is a tip for visuals. If you quickly absorb information through external images, learn words from illustrated dictionaries or flashcards. You can buy them from a bookstore, find them online, or make your own. The latter option is more energy-intensive, but this way you will start learning words while creating cards.
Online resource for learning new words. You can use ready-made sets or create your own
Grammaire — How to learn French grammar?
French grammar scares beginners with its large number of tenses, the agreement between parts of speech, and simply with its existence. Of course, when you look at this "beauty" in textbooks, it invokes panic. But in fact, French grammar is extremely logical. It must be sorted out at the very beginning, along with the reading rules. Then you will have less desire to grab your head at the sight of Conditionnel.
Learn the conjugation of verbs
Unfortunately, there is no learning this language without them. Probably the most annoying part of French is its verb forms. They change by every tense and for every pronoun. There are three groups of verbs in total. Below is an example of the conjugations of group 1 and 2 in Présent simple de l'indicatif. With these verbs, things are mostly understandable.
Parler — to speak, 1 group
Finir — to finish, 2 group
Parl + e
Fin + is
Parl + es
Fin + is
Il / Elle
Parl + e
Fin + it
Parl + ons
Fin + issons
Parl + ez
Fin + issez
Ils / Elles
Parl + ent
Fin + issent
The third group of irregular verbs is troublesome. Here's a small example of how the verb avoir — "to have" — conjugates in all its forms.
If you need French for everyday communication, then you can make do with just learning the most necessary verbs from a phrasebook. But you still have to learn their forms. Otherwise, you run the risk of speaking exclusively in infinitives: I want, he do, she be. And those who strive to truly master French are not afraid of Subjonctif.
Don't suffer from grammar
Remember that any activity can be turned into something fun. Instead of just cramming, try memorizing verb forms like a song to a familiar tune. Another option is to create a visual association. So, the 29 verbs conjugated with a être are easy to remember by drawing a picture or making a story out of them.
Take your time
French grammar will not run away from you. Start learning from the basics: personal pronouns, gender of nouns, groups of verbs, conjugation of the key être, and more. Move gradually. Start by reading a textbook in English, where everything is explained clearly.
Also, be sure to pay attention to the little things. If your goal is to truly master French, understand each grammatical construct. There are many small details in this language. For example, parts of speech such as en, on, dont, que. And they are all used regularly.
French grammar rules by topic with assignments after.
Compréhension orale — What and how to listen to in French?
Understanding French by ear is not easy. And not at all because of the stereotypical "they speak too fast" routine. The main difficulty is the connection between words. Native speakers move from one phrase to another so masterfully that all sentences merge into one. There seem to be no pauses between them. How can this be overcome? Listen to French speech. Listen, even if you don't understand anything — turn on the recording and immerse yourself in French. Without understanding the meaning of what has been said, you still get used to the intonation and rhythm of the language.
Listen to podcasts and radio
A great way to get used to the sound of French. You can listen to both regular radio and educational podcasts. For example, Coffee Break Languages was created specifically for those who are short on time. The entries are categorized according to difficulty levels, from A1 to C1. Another good podcast is News in slow French, which has trending news in French. Then there is French in 5 Minutes — small audios on various topics, from culture to language learning. French radio stations also offer great variety: France Info, Europe 1, RFM, France Culture and so on. Turn on any station and listen to programs or music. If you are interested not in France, but in other countries, find their stations. For example, Canadian 98.5 Montréal or Swiss RTS. Almost all of the listed radios have their own podcasts.
Watch TV shows and series
This method is the favorite of many foreign language learners. What could be nicer? You watch the show, enjoy your life and improve your French skills at once. But this also needs to be done correctly.
First, select the material according to your level. Start with kids' shows or tutorials like Extra. There are simple and straightforward dialogues, especially useful to beginners. If you don't like this, try looking at something you've seen before, but in French. Say you're a fan of The Big Bang Theory and can retell any episode faster than Sheldon says "Bazinga." Find it in French and go. It may not be easy to do this, though. Unfortunately, there are very few free resources for French films. The most convenient way is to use streaming services like Netflix or YouTube.
The second rule is to watch everything with French subtitles, not English. This makes it easier to remember vocabulary in context. Plus, you will immediately understand and think in another language. It will be difficult for a beginner to learn French from films, but for advanced students with a solid foundation, it is a great option.
Listen to lectures and audiobooks
They are suitable for advanced learners. Especially those planning to study in French. Audiobooks can be found on Audiolib or Audible. With lectures, it is a little more complicated. Try searching on Coursera. By the way, there are also French courses from various universities around the world.
Compréhension écrite — What and how to read in French?
Often people focus on speaking and underestimate reading. But all the elements of French are interconnected, and without developing this skill, others will also lag behind. Reading practice helps to build vocabulary and understand the internal logic of the language. The more you read, the easier it is for you to express yourself in French.
Start with easy texts
For beginners, we recommend short, easy texts designed especially for language learners. The resource Lingua has stories for A1-A2 levels.
When you get the vocabulary, move on to adapted books — simplified representations of original works. There aren’t many of them, but seek and ye shall find.
Read relevant press
Reading magazines and newspapers is a great and free way to improve your skills. This will help you learn modern vocabulary and slang expressions. And also immerse yourself in the political and cultural life of the country: you will understand how the French live and what is important to them. Fortunately, the French press offers a ton of options for all tastes: political Le Figaro, Le Monde, and Libération, the infamous Charlie Hebdo, the sporty L'Équipe, and so on.
There is no point in moving to this method before the level Intermediate. But even here you need to increase the degree gradually: from children's books (B1) to professional literature (C1). Of the former, the most popular are The Little Prince, Little Nicolas and Arsene Lupine, as well as the series Découverte: Lecture en français facile from CLE International.
At the avancé level (B2), people start to feel the language. They can look at the constructs in the text and admire the skill of the writer. But don't think that if you are learning French you have to love their classical literature. It's hard to read it, and it's even harder to understand. The Three Musketeers in French no longer seem so exciting.
Reading should be enjoyable. Don't like classics? Well, okay. Look for detective stories or fantasy stories. For example, the thriller Nuitor the novel Une anglaise a bicyclette by contemporary French writers. The language in them is just as rich, but more relevant. If your goal is to work in a French-speaking country, read the professional literature right away. This will help you grasp the vocabulary you need faster.
Library of public texts and classics from Wiki. You can even read Erasmus.
Expression écrite — How to write in French?
The spelling of French is difficult not only for foreigners, but also for the native speakers themselves. Even such simple words as beau [handsome] or beaucoup [many] cause errors. What to expect from something like immarcescible[unbreakable]. If you need French to communicate, you can take a breather and skip the writing part. But for those who study langue française for study or work, we advise you to be patient. Writing will have to be studied long and hard.
First, look for someone who will review what you have written and correct your mistakes. Ideally, they should be a native, but anyone who speaks French at a high level will do. Try HiNative for asking questions to native speakers, or LangCorrect. There they correct your texts. But keep in mind — the spelling in French is so difficult that even the French can have a hard time.
Therefore, do not neglect the self-tests. And use all the available technologies: auto-edits in Word, electronic dictionaries, resources like Bon Patron or Languagetool. Don't neglect searching for every word. And do not forget about diacriticsaccent symbols: è, à, ù, They are not optional. Their absence is a spelling error. Also, always check the gender of nouns and the correctness of the declension.
Use simple sentences
This is a tip for beginners, but avancé can also use it. Literary French is characterized by long and tricky sentences. They sound beautiful within that style. You just can’t resist repeating after the native and wrap up something virtuoso. Do not hurry. At first, write simply, and then gradually move on to a truly literary French style. The time will come, and you will also write something like: "qu'il s'agisse d'un changement de région ou d'un retour en France depuis un pays étranger, une tolérance sera de mise pour les déplacements qui se feront durant ce week-end de Pâques".
Try to enrich your speech and make it more elegant. In a conversation, refined vocabulary is not needed, but in writing a well-chosen synonym will guarantee respect from your penpal. For example, it is better to replace the constructions [simple verb + adverb] with one word. Not "crier fortement," but “hurler.” Not “très fatigué”, but “épuisé.” A good site for finding synonyms is Synonymo. Here are some common French words and their equivalents:
Also, as well
Correspond in French
Language is a living structure. It is constantly changing, and communicating with a native is a great way to stay up to date with all the innovations. This will bring you closer to real life. You will understand how the French communicate with each other. Of particular interest are the slang phrases and abbreviations, like mdr, a +, biz, slt, etc.The textbooks won't teach you that. Look for a conversation partner in the HelloTalk, Ablo, or Italki apps. The latter is designed specifically for learning. There you will find French teachers from different French-speaking countries.
If you're not ready to have a conversation with another person just yet, start writing to yourself. For example, start a diary or a blog in French.
Native speakers’ connecting platform. They check each other's texts and exchange tips for learning their native language.
Expression orale — How to speak French?
For some, speaking French is the most enjoyable part of learning a language, while for others it is the biggest stress of a lifetime. We will give you some tips on how to speak French.
Say it all out loud
That’s the universal rule for any language, but in French it is paramount. Don't just read the texts, but retell them. Don't just learn the words, but enunciate them. Start early. Learned your first five words? Make a sentence out of them. Let's say you have je — me, aller — to go, cinéma— cinema, aujourd'hui — today. Now can you say "aujourd'hui, je vais au cinéma." There, your first steps in spoken French. Of course, this is just the starting line. Getting beyond “I want sleep bed” takes a lot of exercise and grammar learning.
One way to practice is to say all your actions out loud. Start in the morning when you got up: "je me lave le visage, je me brosse les dents" or think out loud in French. You can even do it on the street.
Chat in French
Find someone to practice. It can be another French enthusiast, such as you, or a native. Communication with the latter is more effective in terms of understanding the language. Speaking with a French learner is just practice, but speaking with a native speaker is also a valuable experience. You will hear their accent, intonation, and learn slang. If there is still no opportunity to train with a francophone, talk to yourself or find a conversation partner online. Try these platforms: Tandem, Speaky,orEasy Language Exchange.
Another popular practice option is attending conversation clubs. As a rule, they are organized by language schools.
Expand your active vocabulary
A sore spot for many French learners: "I know a word, but I can't say it." Why is this happening? Most likely, this person has been developing their passive vocabulary. It increases well through reading, listening, and watching movies. New phrases and expressions are remembered but do not become an asset. You can fix this by using them in speech. Learned a new word? Immediately use it in a conversation. Repeat it several times in a row to make it easier to remember.
Application for communicating with foreigners. There is video and audio chat.
Prononciation — How to master French pronunciation?
We advise you to give due attention to the correct pronunciation of french words. The difficulty is that some French sounds simply do not exist in our language. And some of those that do exist have different articulations. But learning to speak like a real Frenchman is possible. Here are some tips on how to improve your pronunciation.
We've already discussed how important it is to start French with the basics. Without understanding phonetics, pronunciation is impossible. The hardest thing for foreigners is with the "burry" r and the sounds [u], [ou], [œ]. In fact, you can read a separate lecture about each sound of this language. If you strive for the most correct pronunciation, analyze them all one by one. Preferably with a teacher. Those who want to come to France and pass for locals, cannot do without the help of a specialist. Otherwise, it is quite possible to study phonetics on your own. For example, TV5Monde offers a good beginner course.
Also, be sure to watch your articulation. The key to understanding French prononciation is the correct placement of the tongue in the mouth. Not only listen to what the person says but also watch how they do it.
Read tongue twisters
Advice for advanced language learners — take a chance. Grab a French tongue twister, read it in your head, and cry some in the corner. Then say it out loud several times, gradually increasing the speed. This is a great way to work out your articulation. Tongue twisters should be selected according to your level. Start with the simplest ones. For example, "douze douches douces." The day will come and you will confidently say “les chaussettes de l'archiduchesse sont-elles sèches? Archi-sèches?".
Learn pronunciation by ear
Technique fit for all levels — listen to as much French as possible. Songs, movies, podcasts, street conversations — anything will do. Just be careful with intonation. There is a difference between how people communicate in everyday life, how announcers read the news, and the performers sing.
To master the pronunciation, repeat after the speakers. And try to convey not only the words but also the emotional coloring of their speech. You can even duplicate the facial expressions and gestures.
In terms of the number of native speakers, French is inferior to English and Chinese. It is spoken by 267 million people, making it the seventh most widespread language in the world. At the same time, langue française is placed second, right after English, among the languages that people learn or want to learn. Maybe not everyone achieves mastery in it, but the interest is clearly there. French attracts people for a variety of reasons: study, career, travel, the desire to migrate, or simply its eternal beauty.
French for study
France has a relatively inexpensive and high-quality education. A year in a Bachelor's degree program for foreign students costs 2,929 USD, and in a Master's — 3,987 USD. It is cheaper than in, for example, the Netherlands and the UK. With the knowledge of a français, it is possible to study not only in France, but also in Canada, Switzerland, or Belgium. Though, in these countries, the variety of programs in French is much smaller.
Proof of language proficiency is required to enroll in a French-taught program. You can get it by passing DELF, DALF, or TCF. Preparing for them is not easy, so we advise you to do it with a tutor, preferably — one who has already passed them. Preparing for the exams on your own is also absolutely possible. The fundamental issue is to find the right study materials and train the right skills. Many language schools organize courses specifically for DELF preparation.
If you are going to work in France, you can’t do it without knowing the language. The employers expect you to be at least B2. There is a stereotype that the French do not like English. It is not true. The bottom line is different: they do not understand it. Did you know that in terms of English proficiency, France is below Greece and Romania? Therefore, do not think that you can easily find a job in Paris by showing your C1 English certificate. But in Canada, there are chances. Of course, this additionally requires other competencies, a quality education, and work experience.
It is not so easy to get settled in France. The unemployment rate among foreigners is 13% — the highest among French-speaking countries. In Belgium, it’s 10%, in Switzerland — 7.3%, and in Canada — 6.3%.
The French language is generally appreciated abroad. With him you can find work in one of the large companies: L'Oreal, Renault, Auchan, Total, BNP Paribas, Dior and others. Plus it is the official language of international organizations: UN, Red Cross, Olympic Committee, etc. So for those wishing to work in the field of international relations, knowledge of French is a must.
French for immigration
French-speaking countries rank high among the most popular destinations for immigration. France is seventh, followed by Canada. Switzerland is in the 24th place because it is expensive.
If your goal is France, you must be fluent in the language. Without French, life will not be nice there. We have already talked about the difficult relationship of citizens of the Republic with the English language. The situation is no better with other languages. Do you want to live in France? Speak and act like a Frenchman. And to become a fully accepted member of society, you need to know the language. It serves not only as a means of communication, but also brings people closer culturally.
Acquiring French citizenship is a quest. You need to live in the country for 5 years. Graduates of French universities — 2 years. It is also necessary to demonstrate the B1 level of language proficiency, which is not so high. To confirm it, you take an exam. It evaluates your speaking and listening skills, and, since 2020, also covers writing. So you have to learn it.
A few words for those wishing to move to red-and-white Canada. If you are aiming for an English-speaking province, knowledge of French will earn you extra points in the Express Entry system when you receive a visa. And with two languages, it will be easier for you to find a job.
French may not be as common as English, but it will also come in handy when traveling. First, there are 29 countries in the world where French is recognized as an official language. Most of them are located in Africa. Want to visit Ivory Coast? Secondly, many people forget that France has overseas territories: New Caledonia, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and others. If you already know Europe inside and out, the French islands in the Pacific are awaiting you eagerly. In addition to the French-speaking countries, you will most likely be understood in Spain and Italy. These languages have similar words and constructions.
If you're learning French for a tourist trip, don't get too deep into the intricacies of the language. You don't need them. Pay attention to common colloquial phrases. There are many compilations for tourists on the Internet. For example, here. Believe me, the French will appreciate your attempt to learn a few words in their langue belle avec des mots superbes.
French for yourself
You don't have to look for a reason to learn French. It attracts many people not by its practicality, but by its beauty. Someone studies it to sing along to their favorite songs from Notre-dame de Paris. Other brave souls dream of reading untranslated Sartre. Finally, many are passionate about la cuisine française. And the last group just wants to impress their beloved ones. Yes, that happens too. "French is the language of love." A stereotype? Maybe. But it's hard to deny that it’s melodic, graceful, and pleasing to the ear. If you are learning French for yourself, just choose whichever method you like. You can start by memorizing songs, and then you’ll get more engaged and sign up for professional courses.
Exams in French
Unlike the huge variety of English exams, there are not as many options in French. Three main tests to determine the level of the language are:
TCF is a generic name for all French language proficiency tests. There are TCF Canada, TCF ANF (for citizenship), TCF Québec, and a few more in other countries. DELF and DALF consist of four sections:
You can prepare for these exams yourself. But it is still better to find a tutor or an assistant, at least for the speaking part. To train it well, you need a conversation partner. Also, pay attention to writing. French essays have their own specificities, different from English.