5 Tips to Enjoy the “Back to French” Season

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September 28, 2021

Photograph by Iván Guerrero & article by Isabelle Nicolas

Though we’re holding out hope for l’été indien to enjoy a few more sunny weekends, we have to face the ugly truth: summer is officially behind us. If you spent the last three months on holiday mode, speaking mostly English or your mother tongue, you might now be dreading the moment you will have to step back into real life and work on your French again.

Have no fear because I am here to help you flex your French muscles and find your motivation. Here are 5 tips to ease yourself into French…

Listen Actively

When we start learning a new language, we all tend to listen more than to speak. That is perfectly normal since we are limited to a few verb tenses, a restricted vocabulary and a basic sentence structure. During this learning phase, we often feel frustrated, confined to the language level of a child, and so far away from who we really are. This active listening period is however essential for acquiring new expressions, increasing your familiarity with the sounds of the language, and understanding the social and cultural rules of your new environment. Make sure to pay attention to the chitchats happening around you on the bus, at a café, or outside your kids’ school. You could learn so much from them. Et puis, un jour, I promise you will feel confident enough to join the conversation.

For more colloquial expressions which will help you better express your opinion, feelings, and state of mind, I also recommend that you check Prêt à Parler’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Humor and laughter are the best allies of our cognitive memory. When we manage to laugh at ourselves or at an embarrassing situation we find ourselves in, we then associate it with a joyful and positive moment. Even if our ego is hurt slightly, no one is going to die. In French, we say: mieux vaut en rire qu’en pleurer. (Better laugh than cry about it.) Doing things with humor allows us to play down the drama, relax and realize that after all, it’s not the end of the world when we make mistakes. 

In fact, it can even be endearing. For example, I used to confuse the German word schicken (to send) with schenken (to gift). For the first few weeks I’ve lived in Germany, I used the following sentence a lot: Ich werde Ihnen heute Abend eine E-Mail schenken, i.e. I will gift you an email tonight. I am not sure if the receivers of my emails considered them as a gift, but I’ve been told how adorable my little mistake was. Sharing your little faux pas moments with other learners is also a great way to connect and to pass on your experience to help others.

Have Fun and Relax

Even if it might seem hard -or impossible- at the beginning, always remember to profiter du moment (enjoy the moment). When we have fun while learning a foreign language, time simply flies naturally. Have you ever had one of those aha moments when you are talking with someone in French and all of a sudden, the right word comes to your mind and out of your mouth? For some learners, this can happen a few weeks, months or even a few days after starting their learning experience. What did they do to make the magic happen exactly? Nothing! They felt relaxed and were enjoying the moment. They let their brain do the work for them and they trusted themselves. It’s a bit like dancing to the sound of a new song on the radio. We don’t know all the lyrics, but we recognize the basic structure of the music, some of the lyrics, we feel the rhythm, the positive vibe, the emotions that are attached to it and we let ourselves float on the wave. I believe it is the same with French: once you have learned the basics, you must let go and trust your brain to do the work for you.

Be Part of the Conversation

The key to success and progress when learning a foreign language is to put into practice what you have learned. For that, you must feel confident and trust yourself well enough to dare to make your voice heard in your daily life in French. If you feel that you are stagnating or even regressing -two things which are perfectly normal phases of a learning process- taking private lessons with a caring, motivating, and highly qualified teacher can make a world of difference.

Define What Helps You Stay Motivated

Motivation is at the heart of a successful learning experience. When I lived in Montreal, and later in Florence and Munich, I realized that without a decent proficiency in the local language, my integration into my new home would only be superficial. Every time I relocated, I had to become relatively fluent as quickly as possible. By the time I moved to Germany, I understood that reaching a point where I could interact with confidence in my new language was what really motivated me to keep learning it. I also knew that commitment, consistency, and perseverance were key elements which would have a direct impact on my progress. So, I created a 12-months intensive learning plan for myself to become fluent in German as soon as possible. 

Here are the goals I had set for myself:

  • After 3 months in the country: master the basics of the language (i.e. present, past and future verb tenses, question and negative forms, basic everyday vocabulary) in order to use it in my daily life: at the bakery, the supermarket, in the metro, at the doctor’s or at the post office.
  • For the following 3 months: focus on talking as much as possible. The idea was to converse more confidently about anything and everything with my German friends and even make some little jokes so my personality could start to shine through.
  • The next 6 months: focus on refining my sentence structure, adding more useful verb tenses, acquiring new vocabulary to better express my opinion, improving my pronunciation and increasing my level of comfort when interacting in social situations.

I am happy to say that at the end of my first year in Germany, I was able to reach level A2 so I could experience my day-to-day life and even work almost exclusively in basic German. It was not easy by any means, but I stuck to my plan and it really paid off.

Would you also like to become fluent in French in order to feel more comfortable in your daily life in Suisse romande? Are you planning on passing the FIDE exam soon?What is your personal French learning plan? Do you need help to define it?Les Super Profs Prêt à Parler are here for you.

To take advantage of Prêt à Parler’s offer to readers of The Lausanne Guide, visit their website.

Feel free to reach out to us here or via email at info@pretaparler.ch.

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