According to the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs (Ministère de l’Europe et des affaires étrangères), French is the 5th most widely spoken language in the world with 321 million speakers. It is also the 4th most used language on the internet, and it has approximately 132 million learners.
If you decided to learn French, you are not alone.
Whether you are a beginner or an advanced learner, you might want to pick up some tips to get your skills to the next level. If so, you are in the right place.
In this post, I will share with you 8 tips to improve your French grammar skills in a fast and easy way.
1. Find out what you like about French
First, why learn French? Is it for work, for school, or for fun?
Establishing your motivation for learning French is the key. If you need a little help on finding or maintaining motivation, we strongly suggest you to read our previous article on establishing language learning motivation. Because a lack of motivation is the single most important reason why people struggle to reach their goals.
If French culture is what caught your interest in the first place, then allow yourself to read about it: read up on its authors, geography, way of life, and so on. If work is your focus, why not read about the business culture in the French-speaking world?
Clearly defining your goal is what will help you stay motivated.
This first step will prepare you for the mightier grammar rules.
2. Pinpoint your weak points in French grammar
Learning grammar is a very personal adventure.
If you’re just starting out, take the time to discover what aspects of French are the hardest for you. Determine what you’re good at, along with what requires more concentration.
As you focus on your weak points, you allow yourself to move forward at your own pace.
For example, some learners have no problem at all with grammatical gender, whereas some people can’t get their head around it. In this example, the first group of learners should concentrate their efforts elsewhere. If it’s not somewhat challenging, you’re not learning.
Your weak points could also be related to your native language.
On the one hand, a Mandarin speaker might find verb conjugation unnatural while a Spanish speaker might shudder at the variety of French vowels.
Here’s how you can tackle your weaknesses in French grammar right now:
(1) Spend at least 10 minutes each day to reflect on your grammar skills. Use tools like LingoDeer to help you keep a French learning schedule.
(2) Write down what notions are difficult for you. Be specific. For example:
I don’t know when to use the subjunctive.
I can’t tell the difference between the imparfait and the passé composé.
(3) Once that’s done, find and write down 5 sentences for each grammar notion on a post-it. Every sentence must display the correct use of the rule or notion you’re having trouble with.
(4) Place the post-it where you can see it while going about your daily activities and look at it as often as you can. By doing this, you are actively engaging your weaknesses. Making them as detailed as possible is a useful strategy. Looking at the post-it many times a day will allow you to absorb the notions subconsciously.
3. Get the verbs right
Like other Latin languages, French possesses a rich verb morphology but, as with any language, the patterns are not infinite.
If you’re a beginner, learning the most common irregular verbs like être (to be), avoir (to have), and aller (to go) is a good start. Then as you move further into the verb tenses and moods, you’ll see that they behave in predictable ways.
Here’s another quick tip to get your started right away:
Following the same post-it principle, print the conjugation tables for the verbs that puzzle you. Put the tables where you can see them, and don’t hesitate to reference them when studying or completing exercises.
4. Practice reading and writing
Here are 3 reasons why reading and writing can take your French skills to another level.
- People read and write all the time
Natural language is not just heard and spoken. For most native speakers, it’s also written and read. When you learn to read and write, you allow yourself to develop skills used in many cultural contexts. As people go through their daily lives, they read ads, road signs, write to their friends using their phones, etc. All these contexts are opportunities to increase your exposure to the language.
- Learn to express your ideas without the pressure
Speaking in public is hard enough, let alone in a foreign language. You might feel like being shy is slowing, if not blocking, your progress. If that’s the case, setting a writing practice could allow you to use your vocabulary and grammar in a safe environment.
Try to write down as many sentences as possible without using a dictionary. This will force you to gauge your resources, know your limits, and what you should learn next. You can also explore more complex ideas and grammar patterns that would have taken too much time to put together in a conversation. Writing is a great “bridge” activity to get you to speak confidently.
- Read out loud help you adapt to new sounds
Practice speaking by reading out loud in your room. Don’t just read in your head. Speech is the most complex activity humans engage in. It requires that you use dozens of facial muscles while you pay close attention both to what you say and how you say it.
As you adapt to French sounds, the movements produced by your speech articulators will become more natural, and your accent will improve.
Reading sentences you have written yourself is also a very good exercise, as you will literally learn to express your own thoughts. Also, don’t hesitate to get your hands on books. French is well known for its literary and philosophical tradition. Reach out to every piece of material in French you can get and immerse yourself in the language. In the end, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc will all come to you naturally.
Here’s a fun activity that can not only expose you to French culture but also improve your speaking.
You might have heard of the Fables de la Fontaine. These famous short stories are classics, and every French speaker remembers them from their childhood. Here’s the beginning of Le corbeau et le renard (The Raven and the Fox):
Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Maître Renard, par l’odeur alléché,
Lui tint à peu près ce langage:
Et bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.
Que vous êtes joli! que vous me semblez beau!
As you may have noticed—or not—the author uses rhymes, which makes the text easier and prettier to memorize.
Find a version of your favorite de la Fontaine fable on Youtube. Then, learn the story by repeating after the person reading the text, and gradually move to recite the whole thing without listening to the audio. You can help yourself with the text, of course.
Don’t worry if you don’t understand all the words or grammar.
The point is to have fun and to learn to reproduce the music of the language.
5. Watch and listen to French content online
In this digital era, there is no shortage of content. So you’ve probably heard this one repeatedly in all kinds of French learning guides. Because it really works.
Do what native speakers do every day: watch French movies and listen to French music and podcasts. By immersing yourself in the language environment, you can not only have fun, but also learn French language in context. If you love podcasts, why not start with LingoDeer’s French coffee break sessions that combine native speakers’ podcasts with professional French lessons?
6. Find French speakers
Talking to French people is a must if you want to get a taste of what real French sounds like.
Like other languages, what you learn in language classes does not necessarily reflect daily casual speech. By going out there and actually meeting with people, you will integrate colloquial phrases that most classes won’t cover. You’ll also find the trickiest grammar points are also best learned by actually using them with native speakers.
Also, French can be different depending on where it is spoken. For example, Montreal French contains some words and phrases that Parisian French does not and vice versa. Most francophones understand the standard variety of their language, but you’ll get a more intimate experience if you discover what French really sounds like in casual settings.
Be an explorer and take your learning out of the classroom!
7. Be consistent
If you keep learning every day with motivation and purpose, you’ll see progress eventually.
Don’t forget that language is a very natural human ability. Some studies have even demonstrated that infants are sensitive to their mother’s voice while still in the womb!
Yes, learning a foreign language takes time and effort but as you learn, the once difficult grammar rules will become second nature.
8. Have fun
As I said, motivation is everything.
If you feel like your learning journey is too tough, then just take it easy. Watch a movie, listen to some music, and relax. This counts as practice, too.
Don’t forget to take breaks. Drink some tea, go outside, and take a walk. Breaks help clear your mind, then you’ll probably find your exercises are much easier.
If you’re not having fun anymore, you’re probably putting too much pressure on yourself.
Grammar is often portrayed as boring. But remember that grammar is just another word for pattern. As you become accustomed to the patterns of French (its sounds, its declensions, its grammatical gender, etc.), you are integrating its grammar. When you watch a movie, you actually learn some grammar. As we saw through this post, this is not the only fun way to assimilate French fast and easily.
So just sit back, believe in yourself, and enjoy the ride.