Learn Basic French - 7 Top Tips

By: Dennis Cordy

For most people it's not difficult to learn basic French. What's difficult is deciding when you've mastered "basic French" and when you're moving on to intermediate or advanced French. The trouble is that each of us has our own definition and each time you get the hang of a particular situation or phrase in French it naturally increases your confidence and you just want to learn a little bit more.

For the purposes of this article we'll say that you want to learn basic French enough to order a cup of coffeee, or a beer, or something to eat maybe. We'll call basic French the amount you need to get by in everyday situations like popping into a shop for a bagette or a newspaper, filling the car with petrol, that kind of thing. If you want to learn basic French at that level it really needn't take you any time at all.

I'm an Englishman, living and working in France. It's nearly thirty years since the basic French I learned at school so I when I moved here two years ago it was pretty much like starting again. I would in no way claim that I'm now a fluent French speaker but we live in a part of rural France with very few English speakers and very few tourists so on a day to day basis we have to speak French. So although I'm no teacher I feel fully qualified to comment on what I think are the best ways to learn basic French from a practical, real-world point of view.

So here we go. My top seven tips to learn basic French:

1. Go to French lessons. A personal tutor is best but a rather expensive option Many schools and colleges offer French evening classes at very reasonable rates. Going "back to school" may be an uncomfortable idea for many of us but you can't beat structured lessons with a French-speaking teacher. If it's an actual French person, so much the better. It's much better to have someone whose English isn't perfect than an English speaker whose French isn't perfect!

2. Get a home study course. Some of the home study courses now available come on CD or as MPEG files so you can carry them around with you or listen to them in the car. Some can be downlaoded to your PC. The idea is to have some way of learning wherever you go.

3. Search for French courses online. There are far to many to mention here but a few minutes searching can turn up some useful basic French sites.

4. Get a book or two on basic French, buy them or get them from the library. CDs, MPEGs and online lessons are all very good but sometimes there's no substitute for a book. There's just something about reading that sticks in the mind more than listening on its own.

5. Write French down. If you're doing a course you'll probably be doing this anyway but if not, write down what you're hearing on a CD or MPEG, get a French Dictionary to check what you've done. I can't tell you why but writing stuff down is an incredibly powerful way to learn.

6. Make as structured and regular an approach as you possibly can to learning basic French. Doing two hours today and five minutes tomorrow isn't going to help. Sure, it's sometimes difficult to find the time but you'll get on much faster if you can apply regular study - even just half an hour a day.

7. It's an expensive way to do things - and you'll want to have had a bit of practice at home first with some audio lessons - but absolutely the best way to learn basic French is of course to visit France and talk to French people. For most of us that first contact or first sentense is quite scary but I have always found that if you make the effort the french people are delighted to try and help you.

The real point here is that when you're trying to learn basic French, as with learning any subject, if you can immerse yourself in it you'll make much faster progress. You might not want to do all the things listed above but if you do two or three different things you'll avoid getting bored and your basic French language skills will improve at a speed that will surprise you.

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