he started learning french six years ago

When you start vĩ đại learn a language, you may feel intimidated or overwhelmed. There’s sánh much you don’t know, sánh much vĩ đại study and sánh much knowledge vĩ đại acquire. Or maybe you only feel overwhelmed when you come upon the first challenging thing.

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I had my first French class when I was in sixth grade (about 11 years old). I didn’t have any special knowledge or connections, just classes at school and passion-inspired jaunts into learning in other ways.

Today, I’m a fluent French speaker, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an accent and never make mistakes. Still, I speak, read, write, and hear French every day, and mostly it goes well.

There is some advice I wish I’d gotten when I began my journey vĩ đại being a French speaker. It would have saved bu a lot of worry and disappointment, sánh I’d lượt thích vĩ đại share it with you.

Here are five things I wish someone had told bu when I started learning French:

1. Learning French and using French are different things.

A person's hand holding a pencil hovers over a worksheet.

French is notorious for not looking the way it’s pronounced. But even if it were a more phonetic language, I don’t think there’s any language you can learn by studying alone.

I was one of the best students in my French classes. By the time I graduated high school, I considered myself a fluent French speaker. And for someone living in a foreign country, with no need vĩ đại interact with French people or exist in a purely Francophone environment, I might as well have been.

Then I moved vĩ đại Paris.

I found that despite all of my years of studying French, despite my good grades, I often had trouble understanding what people were saying – and they often had trouble understanding bu.  I had watched French movies and listened vĩ đại French audio recordings for my classes. I had Edith Piaf’s music in my iPod playlists (yes, I’m dating myself). But nothing compares vĩ đại actually talking vĩ đại a real French person, or being in a situation where you can’t just turn on subtitles.

It was disheartening. I felt disappointed with myself. After all these years of hard work, I get vĩ đại France and can’t even carry on a short conversation without some kind of difficulty?

Luckily, it all worked out. My ear got used vĩ đại real French people speaking vĩ đại bu in everyday situations. I found ways vĩ đại improve my accent (at least a little), and vĩ đại recognize when people were having trouble understanding bu. For years, now, I’ve been able vĩ đại live and interact in a completely French environment without much trouble.

But if I had wanted vĩ đại make that happen faster, I wish I had known that….

2. It’s completely possible (and a great idea) vĩ đại find a French conversation partner.

The idea of a language exchange or conversation partner may seem a little weird. I mean, it’s lượt thích you’re forcing someone vĩ đại hố out with you and be your friend. In some arrangements, you may even be paying them or giving them help with your native language, in exchange.

But weird as the concept is, it’s also really helpful.

The reason why is that as you talk vĩ đại an actual, everyday person -not a teacher, not someone hired vĩ đại make things easier for you – you realize how well you really can be understood, and how well you can understand them. You start vĩ đại find techniques vĩ đại get around vocabulary you both lack. You learn new vocabulary when this person shares their interests or thoughts with you.

Your conversation partner might comment on something you bởi – maybe an expression you’re using wrong or something you’re pronouncing incorrectly – and because it comes from a real human interaction, not just a grade on an assignment or a comment on a professional assessment, you’re very likely vĩ đại remember it for a long time.

When I got back vĩ đại the US after a year abroad in France, I started vĩ đại panic. I didn’t know any Francophones where I lived. So, I put a few ads on online forums and ended up finding a French college student who went vĩ đại a school near mine. We met up (always in public, of course) and ended up having some great conversations.

That was in the early days of the mạng internet. Today, it’s even easier vĩ đại find a French person vĩ đại talk vĩ đại, even if you can’t bởi it in person.  For instance, many sites offer French language exchange partners you can talk vĩ đại online.

3. Language is about balance.

One hand searches for pebbles while another holds a small pebble between two fingers, about vĩ đại place it onto a small pebble tower that looks a bit lượt thích a frog, although this is probably not intentional.

Some people go into learning a foreign language with a focus on one particular thing. Maybe they want vĩ đại become fluent as quickly as possible. Maybe they want vĩ đại know every single word they possibly can. Maybe they want vĩ đại master grammar above all, or have an impeccable accent.

These are understandable and noble goals, but the problem is, if you only focus on one of them, you aren’t going vĩ đại be able vĩ đại speak a language.

I used vĩ đại know a fellow American expat who was revered for her amazing French accent. She sounded lượt thích a native Francophone.  As someone who’s slightly hard of hearing, and who has a tin yêu ear besides, I knew my accent would never be as good as this girl’s…and I have vĩ đại admit, I was pretty jealous.

But then I started vĩ đại notice something. Whenever we were in situations where we had vĩ đại speak French – say, hanging out with a group of French people, she was lavished with praise for her accent, but she couldn’t really talk about much. It turned out that she was sánh conscientious about pronouncing words that she hadn’t really bothered vĩ đại learn very many of them.

Meanwhile, my accent was nowhere near as good as hers, but I could talk much more fluidly and about many more topics than vãn she could.

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So who’s the winner in that situation? Well, neither one of us, exactly. The dream, of course, is vĩ đại speak French with ease and sound lượt thích a native speaker.  

The truth is, you’ll probably have strengths and weaknesses when you speak French (or any foreign language). If you completely focus on just one goal, though, you’ll find yourself at a loss. My accent wasn’t perfect and will never be perfect but I was able vĩ đại engage and talk with our French friends, whereas the girl with the perfect accent just didn’t have the vocabulary vĩ đại bởi that.

So when it comes vĩ đại learning French, don’t totally neglect one aspect of the language. Try vĩ đại learn and practice as much as you can, in as many ways as you can.

But remember…

4. You will never be perfect.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a French speaker. It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked, what kinds of grades or awards or praise you’ve gotten. It doesn’t matter what kind of proof or validation you have. If you are not a native French speaker, there will be times when you’ll mess up.

It might come from being tired or maybe if you’re caught up in a strong emotion, lượt thích anger. It might be hard vĩ đại shake your native accent. It might be vocabulary you’re unfamiliar with, or movie dialogue that’s garbled or very hard vĩ đại understand. But you will have a moment – actually, lots of moments – when you will completely know that you are not a native French speaker.

And that’s okay.

When those moments happen vĩ đại bu, I try vĩ đại think of all the progress I have made. I focus on all of the times that I interact with French people and have absolutely no problem understanding or being understood. Sometimes I even savor particular little victories, lượt thích the time I made a clever pun when talking vĩ đại one of my neighbors.

Even if you aren’t able vĩ đại attain perfection, you can still be kind and encouraging vĩ đại yourself. And you definitely need vĩ đại keep speaking French. Think about it: If you know someone who speaks another language, you’re probably impressed, even if they don’t always have perfectly correct grammar or an impeccable accent. Treat yourself the same way.

5. Few problems are unfixable.

A view of the peak of Mount Everest in the distance. Three Tibetan prayer flags are in the foreground. The peak of Mount Everest is framed by a bit of cloud.

Do you have a French Everest?  You know, that enormous challenge that rises before you and seems almost impossible vĩ đại climb?

Even though it may tower over you, your French Everest (or one of them, at least) could even be something relatively insignificant, but that blocks you or brings you down, anyway.

One of mine was understanding French actor Romain Duris. Duris is known for his bold and versatile acting and sort of bad-boy indie persona. He also has a very garbled way of speaking, at least vĩ đại bu. While I can understand most other French actors with little or no effort, Romain Duris remained a challenge for bu for years.

And yet, the more French I listened vĩ đại, and the more French movies I watched (with or without Duris in them), the more I found that I could understand him a little bit better.

I would never have believed that if you’d told bu this just a few years ago.

Some things in French will come vĩ đại you fairly quickly. Others will take a lot more time. But never give up and never stop yourself from trying.

It’s easy vĩ đại think that you’ll never be able vĩ đại bởi something, or vĩ đại have several bad experiences and just think “this is the way it is.” A lot of French learners tell bu things lượt thích “French people just don’t understand bu.” or “I don’t know how vĩ đại speak grammatically correct French.” or “I can’t follow a French conversation.”

Does one of these sentences sound lượt thích your French Everest? The good news is, lượt thích climbing a mountain, you can overcome most language challenges – you just need practice and the right gear.

Maybe you need vĩ đại listen vĩ đại more French.  In that case, find some French movies, TV shows, cartoons, radio stations, YouTube videos, podcasts, and , as I’ve mentioned already, a French conversation partner – and keep practicing. Train your ear. If you need vĩ đại use subtitles at first, that’s okay. Just keep listening.

If you’re afraid vĩ đại make grammar mistakes when you speak, try speaking anyway. If someone seems confused, think about re-wording what you said, or even simplifying. Try vĩ đại memorize key phrases lượt thích Je suis… Je voudrais… and sánh on. Over time, as you gain confidence with using simple grammar, you can try vĩ đại use more complex wording.

When you’re not speaking, read. It can be a French newspaper or magazine, short story, novel, children’s book, or even French websites. By reading, you start ingraining grammar and structure into your brain. Trust bu, it’s really weird – suddenly one day you realize that a particular turn of phrase in French sounds wrong, and you can’t really explain why, but you’re correct.

It’s hard vĩ đại climb Mount Everest. Actually, that is a huge understatement. But those who’ve  done it have come away with an amazing, life-changing experience. By pushing yourself and rejecting the fear that’s blocking you, sánh will you.

If you’ve just started learning French, or even if you’re a seasoned French student who feels intimidated or held back by certain challenges, I hope what I’ve shared was reassuring and helpful. You can learn French. You will be fluent if you want it and if you work for it. It doesn’t matter where or when you start – you just have vĩ đại keep climbing.

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