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How to Learn French
French has a reputation as the language of love, but there are many other reasons to fall in love with French. It’s the sixth most widely spoken language in the world and the only other language besides English spoken on all five continents. With over 220 million speakers, French is regarded as a language that is useful not only for cuisine, fashion, and travel but also in a competitive, international job market where France has the fifth largest economy.
How you approach learning French depends on your objectives. Some language learners are just beginning their journey by picking up common words and phrases and trying to replicate the infamous French accent. Other language learners may be coming back to French after some exposure to the language in the academic world. Whatever your goals are in learning French, you should carefully consider a language learning program built with you in mind.
Rosetta Stone has over twenty-five years of experience in designing language learning programs that build confidence in speaking and understanding French. Whether you’re a beginner or an intermediate French speaker looking to brush up on basics or advance your fluency, Rosetta Stone can help. With an immersive approach that focuses on contextualizing learning, Rosetta Stone uses an award-winning mobile app and language learning software to deliver bite-sized lessons that help you learn French anytime and anywhere.
How to Learn French Words
When you begin to learn French, it may be tempting to wade into memorizing massive vocabulary lists but this isn’t a very effective (or fun) way to learn French. Instead of focusing on cramming as many French words as you can, learn just a few of the most commonly used words or phrases and dial into perfecting your French pronunciation instead. After all, the goal of language learning is not vocabulary acquisition. It’s having the confidence to have and understand conversations with native French speakers.
There are some commonly used French words and conversational phrases that make up the backbone of the language and learning these will give you a solid foundation. And it’s not just the greetings like Bonjour or s’il vous plaît that you might need in everyday situations. It’s also good to learn the words that the French sprinkle throughout their sentences, like quoi, où, qui, quand, pourquoi, and comment. These words are similar to the English version of what, where, who, when, why and how and they’ll frequently appear in conversations.
To build towards fluency in French, you should begin your French lessons with the basics of common words and pronunciations and then scale naturally towards a more complex understanding of the language. That’s why Rosetta Stone’s French language learning program has an immersive approach that introduces words alongside visual and audio cues that help you learn vocabulary in the context of real-world conversations. The bite-sized lessons are grouped into units that highlight common French conversational phrases you’ll need for everyday situations, coupled with practical review that helps learners solidify their language skills.
Learning French Sounds for Beginners
One of the things the French language is famous for is its je ne sais quoi, an indefinable quality that makes the accent sound alluring and mysterious. However, what may seem an elusive part of the language’s appeal is just the nuances of French pronunciation. Some of the sounds in French can be tricky because they are decidedly more nasal than other languages, but practice makes perfect. That’s why it’s important to learn French pronunciation first, starting with the sounds in the alphabet.
While the French alphabet has the same letters as the English alphabet, some of the sounds are pronounced differently. For instance one of the most familiar sounds in French, the letter “e,” is pronounced ‘euh’ and can be found in every corner of French conversations because it’s used in the same way English speakers use the sound “uh” as a pause or connector to another thought. However, unlike English, French provides helpful accent marks to guide your pronunciation. There are five different French accent marks: the cédille (Ç), the aigu (é), the circonflexe (â, ê, î, ô, û), the grave (à, è, ù), and the tréma (ë, ï, ü). These marks usually indicate that the sound of the letter is irregular, although the circonflexe is only used in French writing and doesn’t alter the pronunciation of the word.
Perfecting your pronunciation is the key to having conversations with confidence in French. Rosetta Stone encourages language learners to begin practicing making French sounds out loud from the very first lesson with a patented speech recognition engine called TruAccent. Embedded in every lesson, TruAccent compares your pronunciation to that of native French speaker and provides feedback, helping you hone in on understanding and being understood in French.
Learning French Vocabulary and Grammar
Once you’ve got a feel for French pronunciation and a basic understanding of the language, it’s time to dive into conversational phrases and a few rules that can help you start to make sense of French vocabulary. Rosetta Stone’s approach takes the emphasis off of memorization and places it on learning French in the context of conversations, so language learners can start building towards navigating real-world situations with confidence.
1. Start with common French conversational phrases
Knowing a few scattered words in French and trying to string them together can make for some very awkward conversations. Instead, focus on learning common phrases up front, including often used greetings and questions. Indeed, words like bonjour (good morning) or phrases like je m’appelle (my name is…) are important, but you’ll also find that learning when to use words like enchanté (enchanted or nice to meet you) or Comment allez-vous? instead of Ça va? (both formal and informal ways of saying How are you?) are essential in navigating conversations with native speakers.
2. Practice with a French Phrasebook
Keeping a French phrasebook on hand for quick reference can be a helpful tool not just in advancing your confidence to engage in impromptu conversations, but also to help you practice and study in stolen minutes throughout the day. Rosetta Stone makes this easy for French language learners with quick-access Phrasebook built into the mobile app to help you learn and practice French on-the-go.
3. Take advantage of those French cognates
In your quest to learn common French words and phrases, you’ll have a little help from the fact that many words in French have similar sounding words in English. We call words derived from the same mother tongue cognates, and French and English have the good fortune of sharing quite a few. Words like carafe, finir (to finish), or fiasco are all cognates. Beware however of words that are spelled similarly but pronounced differently. These are semi-true cognates, and they take a little extra finesse in pronunciation to pull off.
4. Focus on French etiquette
There’s a reason the word faux pas, which means misstep, is one we borrow from French. French can be a very formal language, and it’s essential to get your etiquette right the first time or risk offending someone unintentionally. Learning the difference between formal and informal greetings and which ones are the correct phrases to use depending on the situation is especially crucial for French language learners. For instance, there are three separate French greetings you might use to say hello, but the appropriateness of each depends on how well you know the person you are speaking to. Bonjour can be used in most situations, and salut is okay for casual settings, but you should only use coucou with very close friends or family.
Hov to Learn Advanced French
Once you feel comfortable with common conversational phrases and greetings, it’s time to take your French next level. To be confident speaking the language, you’ll want to also dig into French grammar to get a better understanding of how to structure sentences. The best way to practice French grammar is not to do pen and paper drills or exercises, but to learn how to conjugate verbs and get subject agreement in the context of actual French conversations.
Focus on getting your French verbs to agree
French can be a tricky language in that when you conjugate verbs, they have to agree both in gender and number. French verbs are generally divided into three groups for conjugation: verbs ending in -er, verbs ending in -ir, and verbs ending in -re. Of course, some French verbs are irregular and don’t fit neatly into any of these categories. There are standard rules for conjugation that will apply depending on which group the verb fits into, as well as variations of conjugation depending on the subject and the verb tense.
Don’t worry about learning French verb tenses
French may seem like a moody language, but if you can find comparable examples of these verb tenses in English, it can help you understand how to conjugate without being intimidated. For instance, some language learners find the subjunctive and conditional tenses, or as the French call them “moods,” difficult to master. Subjunctive tense is used to indicate uncertainty and is usually coupled with the expression of an emotion, an opinion or a desire. For instance, Je veux que tu le fasses (I want you to do it) is an example of the irregular verb for do (faire) conjugated in the subjective. Conditional mood in French is when something is not guaranteed to happen. For instance, Si j’avais su, je l’aurais fait (If I had known, I would have done it) uses a conditional mood of the verbs to know and to do. These two French moods that determine conjugation are not about when an action happened but about how it happened.
Practice learning French in the present first
Overwhelmed by all the rules? Don’t be. The best way to demystify complex French grammar rules and verb conjugation is to start simple with the present tense. Learn how to form verbs ending in -er in the present tense before branching out into other endings. Then take the next step and tackle irregular verbs before circling back and learning how to adapt verbs in other more complicated tenses. This is why Rosetta Stone structures lessons in small increments, so you can learn a language one bite at a time, practicing previous vocabulary and grammar extensively before moving on to new concepts.
Hov to Practice Learning French
Learning and studying French is an excellent first step to understanding the language, but at some point, you need to get out there and practice your conversational skills. That’s why any successful language learning program should be combined with practical opportunities to hear and participate in conversations with other French speakers. Modeling and rehearsing real-world situations will help language learners get beyond anxiety about fluency and grow confident enough to speak like a local.
Here are just a few ways you can immerse yourself in the French language or find the opportunity to practice with a partner.
Learn to write French with a penpal
Get a native French speaker or another French language learner who is willing to exchange letters or emails with you. If you’re nervous about having a real conversation, this is a way to ease into it and practice until you feel prepared. But be warned that written French and spoken French can differ in some important ways.
Immerse yourself in French
French cooking shows, French music, French literature. There are many pleasurable ways to immerse yourself in the French language and culture. Pick something that appeals to you and practice daily. Whether it’s French podcasts in the car on the way to work or making dinner with a recipe for coq au vin in French, immersing yourself in the language can glean not only new vocabulary but also expose you to the accent and nuances of French culture.
Practice your French pronunciation daily
Practicing a language every day is vital, whether it’s for ten minutes as you wait in line or twenty minutes before you go to bed. However, this should also incorporate daily, verbal practice which gives you a chance to model French pronunciation and get feedback. Ro
Have online conversations in French
Writing French to a penpal is a more traditional method, but it’s a static and scripted conversation that can feel a bit one-sided. Get beyond letters with online chats that allow you to chat with another language learner and have real, impromptu conversations. Rosetta Stone has an online forum for language learners that can facilitate a connection with other French speakers so you can practice and learn from each other.
Travel to French-speaking countries
Last but not least, sometimes the best way to put into practice your language learning and cement your confidence is to have a practical conversation with a native speaker. You don’t have to start by flying to Paris and striking up a convo on the street. Find a local French club and attend a few meetings or go to a French bistro and practice reading the menu and order in the language. You’ll be building your confidence towards French fluency one conversation and one lesson at a time.
Try Our Award-Winning App
Surround yourself with French whenever, wherever with the Rosetta Stone app.
Download a unit and knock it out on the train or a flight. Select a 5-10 minute lesson and sneak it in while you wait in line or for your ride to show up. And explore dynamic features, like Seek and Speak, where you can point at an object in the real world and get a translation.
The best part? You don’t have to choose between app or desktop. Both come with your subscription and sync, so you can switch between devices seamlessly.