by Fiona McMurrey

1. Don’t be afraid of failure!

Image courtesy of France Channel.

As polyglot and playwright Samuel Beckett once wrote, “Fail, fail again, fail better.” Rome wasn’t built in a day and no language could ever be learned in one. French is quite complex and it is all too easy to want to give up on the first try: the accent is notoriously difficult, and the grammar, even to Latin scholars like myself, is sometimes nonsensical. The only failure in life is doing nothing at all, even if you try and the result is not what you wanted you will have learned something, so keep going - allons-y!

2. Your accent won’t be perfect and that’s ok!

When you start learning French you might immediately feel shy about your accent which is perfectly normal as the French accent is renowned for its distinct awkwardness when spoken by French-learners. The best way to perfect your accent is to listen to French whenever you can, whether in your car with a “learn French,” podcast, on Instagram with numerous accounts dedicated to propagating French education, or by attending conversational workshops or online seminars. Another way to perfect the French “i” is to learn how to smoke a cigarette (and then quit! I am not advocating the use of carcinogenic substances…only at parties in Paris).

3. Watch French movies and series!

A fantastic way to learn French if you’re just starting out is through watching movies and series such as those available on our streaming service France Channel! Listening to specific words in these conversational contexts can help prepare you for integrating them into your vocabulary and using them in your regular conversations in French. Watching French films can also help teach you about aspects of French life and specific filler words and expressions that are used in everyday speech which you can only learn from experience.

4. Engage with French culture!

If you’re anxious to start learning French but still want to engage with French culture start with reading classic French novels by authors such as Georges Sand, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and more translations of contemporary French novelists which will give you a certain social credit (social capital - according to Pierre Bourdieu!) and will give you an understanding of the authors who invented, altered, and experimented with the French language.

Another way to engage with French culture is to listen to French music. Whether you listen chronologically to French music from Charles Trenet to 60s Yé-yé, and then more modern musicians such as Stromae, and others, if you want to dive into learning French explore the rich and diverse catalog of French music on sites like Spotify and Deezer.

5. Travel to France!

As an American who studied French for three years before moving to France and effectively came of age in France, I not only had to learn how to be an adult but also do so in my third language which was as difficult as it was rewarding. Even though I’ve lived in Paris for four years now, I am still confronted by my ignorance in certain situations, such as navigating a hospital and being utterly unaware of French medical terms - I can talk your ear off in French about philosophy but put me in the Emergency room like I was last October, and I might as well be in French 101. The best of all ways to learn French is to travel to France or any French speaking nation and immerse yourself in the language, even if only for a few days, or a week or two. You have to trust that despite not being fully fluent you will figure it out and people are always more willing to help if you’re willing to make the attempt to speak their language.