In this article we'll look at some French language learning basics to provide you with the strong foundation you need to start learning French. If you've decided to learn French or are thinking about learning French, here you’ll find the helpful information you need to get started as a beginner.
Resources for further reading:
The first question that many learners ask is why they should learn French. After all, learning a new language requires a lot of dedication! A little extra motivation goes a long way, so here are some of the many reasons why you should learn French:
Now that you know why you should learn French, let's look at the things you need to know before getting started.
Before learning French, it's important to know a bit about language learning basics.
No, we're not talking about knowing how to say "hello," "thank you," and "one beer, please" (although this is helpful, of course). We're talking about knowing a little about how languages work and the basic parts of a language.
One of the first steps in learning a language is to learn about what makes up a language and the unique aspects of the language you want to learn (in this case, French).
It's time to take a look at what it really means to learn a language. So what does learning French involve?
Basically, learning French involves learning four related skills:
French pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary are key to these skills.
The difficulty of each skill depends on the person. For many, reading in French is easier than writing or speaking, but for some, speaking is the easiest. You'll discover what your strong points are as you start to learn the language.
As you can imagine, learning any of these skills also helps you to learn the others. They're all very important if you want to become fluent in French.
Give it a try!
If you're a French beginner and are new to the language learning scene, we recommend giving our free Rocket French trial a try.
This is a great way to see what it's like to learn French online, how the lessons and activities work, and figure out how learning French can fit into your life.
Get your feet wet and give learning French online a try. What do you think? It's kind of fun, isn't it?
If you're hooked on French like we are, it's time to dig in and start to learn it! But where should you even begin?
Here at Rocket Languages, we'd like to help you on your French learning journey by giving you a step-by-step guide on how to learn this beautiful language the best and easiest way possible.
No great achievement ever happens overnight, and learning French is no different. The first step to learning French is to make some smart, realistic goals to help yourself organize your time and plan your studies.
Here are a few tips:
Your New Year's resolution may be to "learn French," but what does that actually mean? Vague goals like this are both frustrating and unproductive. After all, how will you know when - and if - you ever achieve this goal? Instead, try making some SMART goals.
SMART goals, as advocated in the world of management, are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. In order to best apply this concept to your French studies, it's recommended that you become a little familiar with the European Common Framework that defines the different language levels.
Here's a quick breakdown of the Framework and its levels:
|Level Group||Group Name||Level||Level Name|
|A||Basic User||A1||Breakthrough or Beginner|
|A2||Way Stage or Elementary|
|B||Independent User||B1||Threshold or Intermediate|
|B2||Vantage or Upper Intermediate|
|C||Proficient User||C1||Effective Operational Proficiency|
|C2||Mastery or Proficiency|
On average, many speakers are considered "fluent" in a language by the time they've reached level B2 or higher, a level which allows them to comfortably interact in almost all social situations.
Aiming for a B2 level of French is therefore a more specific and results-focused goal, and, thanks to the criteria provided by the Common European Framework of Reference, it's also measureable.
It's much more attainable than aiming for the vague notion of "fluency" (which seems to elude even fluent speakers!). You can easily make it time-bound by keeping in mind the criteria needed for each level and making yourself a schedule with your goals in mind.
Now that you have some realistic goals in mind, it's time to make a study plan. A study plan will help you organize and maximize your time, keep motivated, set goals, and make sure your brain gets the repetition and structure it needs.
Consider it your very own personalized plan d'attaque.
Before you can make a great plan, however, there are four things you need to keep in mind:
With this in mind, you're ready to make your personalized study plan. Here's what it should include:
Try to make sure your learning time is free of distractions and your workspace is organized. Schedule short breaks to keep yourself motivated when you're in the middle of long study sessions. Most importantly, have fun with it!
Once you have a realistic, smart plan for approaching language study, it's time to dig in and start to get your hands dirty. But where should you even start?
The answer is simple: sounds. Learning how to hear, pronounce and spell French sounds is a great place to get started even before you begin memorizing words and their meanings.
As in English, the consistency between written and spoken French is rather weak, which means that learning how to write and read in French doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to master the spoken language.
That’s why it’s a good idea to get familiar with French sounds before moving forward to the second stage and studying writing.
Standard French contains 13 oral vowels and up to 4 nasal vowels, but it only has 5 different letters for all these sounds. Crazy right? But don’t freak out, it’s just a matter of studying a little bit, listening to a ton of French, and repeating the sounds until your tongue hurts.
Spend some time just focusing on French sounds and spelling so that they are longer foreign to you. Study the French alphabet and work on identifying the letters and pronouncing all the sounds that differ from English sounds.
Get started with these!
See the whole French alphabet here. You can also listen to pronunciation guides on YouTube, or watch movies or series with subtitles in French and read along to learn to recognize and repeat sounds.
The next step is to start recognizing and memorizing vocabulary words. There are several great tips for making the best of your vocabulary learning:
Learning French requires learning a lot of new words. There's no way around it. Many people use their "bad memory" as an excuse for not learning a new language, but we have some comforting news for these people (and even those with great memories): you don't need to know all - or even the majority - of French words to be able to speak French well. In fact, you don't even need to know half!
Le Grand Robert de la langue française, one of the biggest and most renowned dictionaries of the French language, contains about 100,000 words and over 350,000 definitions.
Do you need to know them all? Of course not! Don’t waste your time learning words and phrases that you'll never use.
Many experts believe that 300 words may be enough to carry on an everyday conversation in French, which means that very little memorizing may be required.
That's right, only 300 words! So what does that mean for you as a French learner?
By learning the 300 most common French words first, you can cut your work in less than half. You'll be able to communicate faster and with significantly less effort.
However, it’s highly recommended that you gradually expand your vocabulary at least to the 1,000 most commonly used words in French. With just 1,000 words, you'll be able to understand about 80% of written texts.
Here are some of the most common French words to get you started...
Rocket Record lets you perfect your French pronunciation. Just listen to the audio of the native French speaker and then use the microphone icon to record yourself. Once you’re done, you’ll get a score out of 100 on your pronunciation and can listen to your own audio playback. (Use a headset mic for best results.) Problems? Click here!
Note that you should study French greetings, numbers, basic travel questions, how to tell time, the 6 French pronouns and the most practical French verbs as soon as possible to help get you started.
Believe it or not, you already know some French words even before you even start studying it. While French may seem like "Greek" to you, the majority of foreign languages actually share some words or roots of words. These words that look or sound like words in your language and have the same meaning are called "cognates."
Almost all European languages share countless cognates with English thanks to their shared roots, history, and evolution. Take the English words "identification," "attention," and "direction," for example. The very same words exist in French with the exact same ending and just a slightly different pronunciation.
These cognates are your friends and can make learning French much easier and faster.
Here's a handy list of French words that you already know thanks to cognates. And you can get started with these:
Now that you've got the French sounds down as well as some basic vocabulary, it's time to start tackling grammar.
Don't worry! We'll help make it as fun as possible. Here are a few things that can help:
Just like with vocabulary, it's important to make sure you learn the most practical French verbs first. These are the verbs that you use the most in your everyday life. Instead of plunging into all of the different and complicated conjugations, make your life easier by learning the present tense first.
Start by learning the present tense of the four most practical French verbs:
être (to be)
aller (to go)
faire (to do)
avoir (to have)
Then, start to learn verbs that end in -er, which is one of the easiest endings to conjugate. Some of these verbs include:
to ask for
Grammar provides the rules for the game in a language. It helps us tell a story. While French grammar may seem complex, it can actually be broken down into three basic operations:
That's it. That's not too bad, right?
Keeping this in mind, we can use the grammar explanations we learn to help us break down the rules into easily memorized chunks.
When studying verb tenses, for example, practice saying the same sentence using every different pronoun in the same tense. Then, practice changing the sentence into a negative sentence and into a question.
Later, you can then practice saying the same sentence in different tenses with the same pronoun, in the negative form, in the question form, etc. You can even make your own flashcards to help you with this.
This is a great way to break down rules and make them easier to memorize.
Finally, the cliché saying that "practice makes perfect" has never been more true than in the language learning world. Learning French involves a lot of practice, but there are a few great tips on how to practice without even needing a passport.
Movies, music, television series, books, newspapers, magazines and anything you can read, watch, or listen to in French are unbelievably useful for learning.
Reading, watching and listening has a remarkable effect on your brain. Simply by being exposed to French, your brain is put to work. It starts trying to understand new words by making connections to previously learned words and seeks to make sense of any new structures. Basically, you're learning without feeling like you're learning.
After a while, you'll find yourself using French words and constructions that you didn't even study thanks to your brain's ability to soak up vocabulary and grammar while reading a book or watching a series.
One word of warning, though: if you really want to get useful grammar and vocabulary, make sure that what you're reading, watching or listening to is modern and in a dialect that you would like to learn.
Try to interact in French on a daily basis. This can involve:
Unlike other academic subjects, learning French is a continuous, never-ending adventure that requires constant practice. Don't live in fear of making mistakes.
In the language learning world, mistakes are a sign of progress. Mistakes help you to learn faster. Don't worry about upsetting native French speakers for being too "bold" and trying to speak with them in their native language. Don't worry if you say something that sounds a little strange. Just go for it!
Odds are, they'll love it and want to help you. Don't let fear get in your way. Interact in French as much as possible, and you'll be amazed by the results. You can also find some great French learning hacks here to help you out along the way.
No matter what, make sure to keep your studies fresh and fun. You'll stay motivated and learning French will be faster, easier and more fun!
Bonne chance !
Reinforce your learning from this lesson with the Rocket Reinforcement activities below! These activities are scientifically designed to improve your knowledge and retention of French.