Top 10 French hacks
French has been one of the most influential languages in history and is still an official language in 29 countries across Europe, Africa, North America and the Caribbean.
If that's not enough to make you want to start learning French today, this will: believe it or not, French is actually one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers because of the two languages’ many similarities. French is an excellent language for English speakers to learn.
If you've decided to give French a try, and you're eager to start (or continue) learning the language of liberté, egalité, and fraternité (the French national motto), here are a few hacks to learn French fast and optimize your efforts.
Resources for further reading:
Hack #1: Start with Sounds
Now that you've decided to learn French, it's time to dig into the language learning process. But where should you even begin?
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 with 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 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, work on identifying the letters and pronouncing all of 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, watch movies or series with subtitles in French and read along to learn to recognize and repeat sounds.
Hack #2: Learn on the Go
Let's face it: you probably have a busy life, and it's difficult to set time aside to study French. Fortunately, however, one of the best ways to take advantage of your free time is to learn French on the go.
A great way to do this is by taking advantage of American academic and polyglot Alexander Arguelles' Shadowing Technique.
This language learning technique involves listening to French with headphones and simultaneously repeating it out loud while walking outdoors. There are three key points to this exercise:
- Walk outdoors as quickly as possible. If you feel shy or embarrassed doing this in public, find a road or path where you can speak French loudly and proudly without many other people around you.
- Maintain a perfectly upright posture. According to Arguelles, maintaining a good posture contributes to this method's efficacy.
- Articulate well and in a loud, clear voice. This is very important in order to effectively learn the rhythm, structure and sound of the language.
Say the sounds as soon as you hear them. Don't wait for the entire word. In fact, at first you may only catch a small portion of what's being said and sound like you're speaking nonsense.
This may feel silly at first, but its results will amaze you. By speaking aloud as soon as you hear French sounds, you're developing a sense of how the language sounds and is structured, even if you don't understand everything that's being said.
Don't worry if you can't catch and repeat everything. As you improve, you'll gradually begin developing the accent and rhythm of French.
Try it with the first Interactive Audio lesson from Rocket French. Click here to download it for free, save it to your device and you're ready to go! (Or just stream it below).
Some other great tricks for learning French on the go include taking advantage of your morning subway or bus commute by studying flashcards, or listening to French audio or radio stations in the car.
Make learning French a part of your life, and you'll be amazed at how much time you have to study when you learn on the go.
Hack #3: Learn the Practical Words First
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 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 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.
Practice Your Pronunciation With Rocket Record
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!
Here are some of the most common French words to get you started!
Hack #4: Take Advantage of Cognates
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, most 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 your French learning much easier and faster.
Here are a few French words that you already know thanks to cognates:
Hack #5: Hooked on Mnemonics
As many who have learned a foreign language already know, simply repeating vocabulary sometimes just isn't enough. Occasionally, our brains need a little extra jump start to remember tricky words.
That's where mnemonics come in. Basically, mnemonics involve telling yourself a fun, goofy or memorable story, song, or rhyme to associate with a particular word.
For example, one trick for memorizing the difference between "au dessus" (above) and "au dessous" (below) goes: If in the air you see a bus, it must be “au dessus.” If on the ground you see a mouse, it must be “au dessous.”
Another fun French mnemonic device can help you remember which French verbs take “être” as an auxiliary. They are almost always used with “être” (to be) unless there is a direct object, in which case, the auxiliary “avoir” (to have) is used. All you have to do is remember Dr. & Mrs. Vandertrampp:
Remember, if you have troubles memorizing a word, phrase, or grammatical rule, you can always make your own mnemonic device!
Hack #6: Keep a French Vocabulary Notebook and Flashcards
Keep a journal, document, or book with all the vocabulary you learn in one place. Not only does keeping a vocabulary journal help you keep all of your new words and phrases in one place, but the very process of writing down a word and its translation, notes, image or mnemonic device helps you to memorize it.
Students who keep vocabulary journals tend to recall vocabulary much faster and progress much more quickly in their learning.
You can then transform your notebook into study-friendly flashcards by using flashcard generating programs like Anki for your phone or computer. Use these flashcards on your phone to learn on the go when you’re on the bus, walking to work or simply waiting in line at the grocery store.
Hack #7: Find the Patterns
You need at least two elements to build a sentence: a noun and a verb. That’s why in French, as well as in any other language, verbs are a fundamental part of learning the language. French verbs present some obvious difficulties because they can be conjugated into four moods, four simple tenses, and six persons. But finding the pattern can make your life a lot easier.
With French, there are three categories of regular verbs and a lot of irregular verbs. You should start with the regular verbs divided into three categories depending on the verb's infinitive ending. Let's look at an example of each:
- Aimer (to love)
- Définir (to define)
- Attendre (to wait)
First group: Verbs ending in –er
More than 80 percent of French verbs are -er verbs. That means that if you know their conjugation pattern in the present tense, you can pretty much conjugate 80% of French verbs, which is awesome.
To conjugate a regular -er verb, drop the -er of the infinitive and add the six present tense endings specific to -er verbs: -e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez, -ent.
Verb conjugations of aimer (to love)
- J'aime - I love
- Tu aimes - You love (casual)
- Il aime - He loves
- Elle aime - She loves
- Nous aimons - We love
- Vous aimez - You love (formal)
- Ils aiment - They love (masculine)
- Elles aiment - They love (feminine)
Second group: Verbs ending in –ir
To form the present tense of a regular -ir verb, drop the -ir of the infinitive and add the present tense endings specific to -ir verbs: -is, -is, -it, -issons, -issez, -issent.
Verb conjugations of définir (to define)
- Je définis - I define
- Tu définis - You define (casual)
- Il définit - He defines
- Elle définit - She defines
- Nous définissons - We define
- Vous définissez - You define (formal)
- Ils définissent - They define (masculine)
- Elles définissent - They define (feminine)
Third group: Verbs ending in –re
To form the present tense of an -re verb, drop the -re of the infinitive and add the present tense endings specific to -re verbs: -s, -s, nothing, -ons, -ez, -ent.
Verb conjugations of attendre (to wait)
- J'attends - I wait
- Tu attends - You wait (casual)
- Il attend - He waits
- Elle attend - She waits
- Nous attendons - We wait
- Vous attendez - You wait (formal)
- Ils attendent - They wait (masculine)
- Elles attendent - They wait (feminine)
Irregular verbs are a little bit more difficult since they don’t follow a specific pattern. But in order to learn French quickly, it’s highly recommended that you learn a few basic irregular verbs such as être (to be), avoir (to have), aller (to go), faire (to do), and pouvoir (can).
Hack #8: The Scriptorium Technique
Linguist and polyglot Alexander Arguelles developed another excellent technique for improving your writing and speaking skills simultaneously. It's designed to help you to really focus on the individual components of French.
The Arguelles' Scriptorium Technique involves three basic exercises:
- Reading a sentence out loud.
- Saying each word aloud again as you write the sentence down.
- Reading the sentence aloud again as you have written it.
This exercise forces you to slow down and pay attention to detail, and look up anything you don't know. Find good source material and then copy it carefully, saying each word out loud as you go. Make sure you take the time to check any vocabulary or grammar you're not sure about as you come across it.
The Scriptorium Technique is a fantastic way to refine and polish your French language knowledge, especially at intermediate and advanced levels. The key to mastering this technique is to take your time, be thorough and meticulous, and remember... practice makes perfect.
Hack #9: Read, Watch, and Listen to French
Movies, music, television series, the radio, books, newspapers, magazines and anything else you can read, watch, or listen to in French are unbelievably useful for learning. You've probably already heard of cases of people teaching themselves a language by watching movies or playing video games - and while these things don't directly teach you grammar, they do help you learn it.
Reading, watching and listening to French has a remarkable effect on your brain. Simply by being exposed to the language, 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 French without knowing that you're learning. After a while, you'll find yourself using 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, listening to the radio, or watching a series.
Fortunately, French is a very culturally rich language. Some of the most celebrated books in the world, such as Madame Bovary, Les Miserables, and The Little Prince, were originally written in French. While French cinema might not be as globally famous as American cinema, there are some great movies for French learners such as Amélie, Chocolat, and Être et avoir.
Books and movies may be difficult to enjoy at the beginning, but as soon as you learn a few words, you’ll be able to understand a lot more than you imagine. Movies with subtitles and bilingual books can be really helpful for those who want to jump straight into audiovisual arts and literature from an early stage of language learning.
If you're extra motivated to learn and practice, use the Shadowing Technique and learn on the go while listening to and repeating your favorite French radio station, podcast, TV series or movie. This is a great way to pick up the rhythm, structure, sound and rules of the French language without needing to hit the books.
Hack #10: Interact… Without Needing to Travel
Try to interact in French on a daily basis. Speaking out loud as much as possible is one of the best tricks to learn French fast. Here are some great ways to practice speaking (and writing) in French:
- Speaking with a French-speaking friend, family member or neighbor in person
- Writing a letter to a friend, family member, or coworker in French
- Writing a letter in French to yourself or keeping a journal in French
- Visiting a local store or neighborhood where French is spoken and interacting with the locals
- Joining a weekly or monthly French conversation group or starting your own group
- Speaking French online with a friend, family member, coworker, or fellow learner
- Writing an email in French
- Contributing to a blog or forum in French (Rocket Languages has some great forums for this!)
- Singing along with French music
- Watching a French movie or series and repeating the character's lines (you can use French subtitles to help)
- Reading a passage from a French book, newspaper, or magazine out loud
- Talking to yourself in French (this really works!)
The key is to interact, speak, and think in French as much as possible. You can do this anywhere and everywhere. Make French a part of your daily life!
By following these ten easy French learning hacks, you'll learn French faster, better, and enjoy yourself more doing it.
Bonne chance and happy learning!
Make It Stick With Rocket Reinforcement
Reinforce what you’ve learned in this free lesson with our Rocket Reinforcement activities below! These activities test you on what you've learned in this lesson and are scientifically designed to improve your French knowledge and retention.