It’s every language learner’s dream, yet few really attain it. But really, there is no secret to becoming fluent and YOU can become fluent too if you just set your mind to it.
That’s right. If you decide you’re going to be fluent, you can. End of story. Apart from having made that firm decision, like a promise to yourself, there is really one main thing standing in your way to becoming fluent in French (or any other language).
Are you ready? Here we go!
The thing that is keeping you from becoming fluent in French (or any other language you are learning), is not listening enough.
That may sound strange to you. That’s because, in recent years, the emphasis in the language learning sector, has been heavily on practicing speaking to become fluent.
While this is the right approach, the listening part has been largely moved to the background. This is a big mistake.
How do you think baby’s learn to speak? They have to listen to what everyone around them is saying for months on end, without either understanding and much less able to answer back or say anything.
Think about this for a moment. How tough are you to be able to endure sitting through an entire movie in French with no subtitles in any language whatsoever? (That “test of endurance” is a good way to estimate how fast you could become fluent, by the way.)
If you think you can do it, then cheers to you, you’re on your way to becoming fluent fast. Trust me. But if you think you don’t have the patience or the mental endurance to sit through 90 minutes of understanding next to nothing…you either have to decide you’re going to train yourself to do it or you must accept that becoming fluent is going to take you longer than you wish it did.
So, long story short: you have to expose yourself to oral French as much as you can. The more you listen to it, the faster you’ll learn.
The cool thing about this, is that you don’t have be listening actively all this time (though the more active listening you do, the better and quicker you will become fluent).
How can you do this?
Through any audio means available to you:
Music is great because it is associated with melody and research has proven (as you might already know), that associating sound and music to a concept helps you remember better. You will remember words better if they are accompanied by music. Better yet, if the song tells a story and you look up the translation, you will gradually be able to make out the French words correctly because you already know the story.
This one is a lot harder because people usually speak quite fast on topics you probably don’t have the vocabulary for just yet. As a beginner, it’s great for passive learning. The way you can learn actively here, is just by focusing on pronunciation and trying to make out words, even if you don’t understand them. Just repeat the sounds you hear, no matter how correct or incorrect it is. If you’re on your own at home or in the car, no one will care but it’s very effective practice.
This might be similar to radio, but usually people don’t speak too fast and you might be able to find a French podcast that speaks on topics that might be a little more “daily” or “personal”. Podcast isn’t a big thing in France yet but it’s coming slowly, so you might find something you enjoy listening to.
There are some French learning podcasts out there that might be helpful for you if you are a beginner.
And there is my own Random French Podcast of course. 😉
The difficulty here will greatly vary depending on the subject. Don’t think you’re too grown-up to listen to children’s stories. I often find that children’s material in your target language is usually the best to get started with.
The stories are usually short with a variety of easy and difficult vocabulary, which makes it a perfect mix to start learning a language by listening without becoming (too) discouraged.
Finally, remember that listening does take a lot of courage, determination and persistence. I know it isn’t easy to sit there not understanding a word, but it’s necessary, especially as your language skills improve, I very strongly recommend you increase the amount of active listening if you want to become fluent.
This one is usually as hard as radio, in what concerns the listening aspect. Because people usually also speak fast and on difficult topics. However, you have the huge advantage of images to understand vaguely (or well) what might be going on, especially if you’re following the news in your own language and the topic happens to be an international matter.
Being able to watch TV in French (or any other language) is great because you can associate sounds with images. During a news report, you will usually hear the same words spoken over and over again. If you listen closely, even if you don’t necessarily understand the word, you will at least have a greater chance to remember that specific words belongs (or can work) in this specific context. This means that the next time you watch similar news, if you remember that word, you can listen out for it and be very proud of yourself if it does come up again!
After music, they are my favorite means of learning a language by active listening.
Although most TV series are really rubbish (let’s be honest), they are incredible for learning a language. The reason for this, is that they usually use daily vocabulary (unless you watch a criminal or medical TV series) and they repeat it all the time.
Honestly, I have never realized how linguistically poor these series are until I started watching them in the foreign languages I learned. The same words and expressions kept coming up again and again until they were just ingrained in my brain and I managed to become fluent just by listening and watching, without saying a word the entire time.
Yes. You read that correctly. This was my breakthrough moment both in learning and in teaching languages.
Since then, I’ve been recommending them to everyone, even though, unfortunately, much of them are junk.
For more tips on how to learn French through TV, read this great article by Fluentu.com:
Mini TV Series
On one hand, they are great because they are very short. But, on the other hand, people often speak ridiculously fast and use a lot of familiar language and slang, making it difficult to understand.
Which is the reason why I created The Binge-Watcher’s Guide to French for Movies & TV Series. It’s totally free, you just have to sign up to get it sent to you.
They also often involve a lot of sense of humor, so not understanding much of what is being said will make you miss out on the essential message, since the visual cues are often not enough to understand what is really being said and therefore going on.
Movies can be a great way to start, because it is combined with music, silences, etc and, of course, it’s visual, so looking out for tone and body language, as well as the music and the angles of filming…all this greatly helps out in interpreting the language.
I also highly recommend watching a movie that you’ve already watched in English so that you know the story. Don’t think it will spoil the action for you. Instead, focus on the language learning aspect. This activity will be a lot more efficient if you don’t have to make out the scenario and what is going on.
The reason this is a great means of exposing yourself to the language and learning by listening, is that you can pause and rewind if need be. You can also do it as easy or hard as you like. Most of time, I will watch with dictionary and Google Translate opened, pen and paper and stop (almost) every time I make out a word or an expression, look it up on Google Translate (or the dictionary if I have it in that language) and then jot it down.
Of course, this takes a loooong time to go through the movie, but who says you have to finish it in one sitting?
On the other hand, if you’re not in the mood for hard work and you just want to relax, you can just as well watch for 90 minutes (or longer) without taking notes and just listening half-actively.
YouTube is great because you can pick your videos and the videos are often short (if it’s a YouTuber’s video). There are some great francophone YouTuber’s out there (the most popular at this time of writing and as far as I know, are Cyprien and Norman fait des vidéos).
The difficult part of watching francophone YouTubers is that they often speak fast and use a lot of familiar terms and slang that you might not understand. Fortunately, some of them (at least the two above), have become so famous that some of their videos are now translated into English.
The other difficulty is that their videos are edited, so that can make it extra fast and difficult to understand.
Of course, there are also French teachers taking their skill on YouTube, so look out for them.
All this is easy to understand and easy to implement. The only difficulty lies in how persistent you are and, quite literally, how much you can endure.
As I say again and again, you must have a high tolerance of incomprehension at the beginning of your language learning journey, if you want to get anywhere.
Don’t be afraid of missing out on words and phrases. Don’t focus on everything. You don’t have to know everything the first time round. Take it one step and one thing at a time.
Keep on keeping on!