Teach Yourself French!

Are you interested in speaking French but don’t have time for a French course? It is possible to learn French all by yourself at home, if you are willing to work for it. Read on to know how to teach yourself French! You will have to learn grammar, vocabulary, writing, listening and speaking skills. The best way to get all that covered is to get a French Language Learning Software, but there are many other methods too to teach yourself instant French!

French Grammar

If you have a French language learning software, it probably has an integrated grammar section. I tried using them at first but noticed that I learn grammar a lot better in the old-fashioned way with a pen and a paper, so I got a teach yourself French book. I have tested several French grammar books with exercises, and finally found a series which suit my needs. The books are called Grammaire Progressive Du Francais and there are three of them, all for different levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced). They are written by French native speakers and are in French completely. The books are not that useful without the answer booklets, unless you have an eager French speaker to go through your answers, so don’t forget to get a copy of those as well. I know of some people who have bought copies of Grammaire Progressive Du Francais and one answer booklet. They do the exercises at home and then gather together to compare their answers.

I like these books because they concentrate mainly on the exercises and the grammar explanation parts are short (that is a downside too; every now and then I had to ask my husband for an explanation or use my other, more comprehensive grammar book). That proved to be a good combination. I would never have the patience of just reading the grammar rules with all their exceptions and oddities. I much rather do the exercises. Grammaire Progressive Du Francais books have a lot of exercises around the same theme, and they build on what you have already learned from book to book. They introduce the basic grammar rules in the beginners’ book, go through the same rules and a bit more in the intermediate book and even further in the advanced book.

I have used a separate notebook for writing my answers. This way I can retake a more difficult exercise without seeing my previous answers, and then compare the results. Practice makes perfect! I have been very pleased with these French grammar books. I also have a copy of Bescherelle: La Conjugaison Pour Tous, which is the book all the French kids have at school. Bescherelle is a grammar reference book which has all the verb conjugations.

When learning a new language, you have to be familiar with the English grammar to be able to understand the rules in French. If you need some practice in grammar in English, try the English Grammar for Students of French. It has good, short explanations of both languages, English and French.

French Vocabulary

You cannot do much with grammar if you don’t know any words. I have used a software called 200 Words a Day for very convenient, easy and even amusing vocabulary building. In 200 Words a Day French you practice your vocabulary and ability to build sentences. 200 Words a Day has been divided in lessons, which all have 15-30 words in them. The software uses all the best mnemonics (ways to help you remember) there are. Every word is presented in several different ways: you hear the pronunciation and see the word in writing. There is a memory trigger attached on each word. The trigger can be something funny or just something which sounds similar. The purpose of the triggers is to make the learning easier. After completing each lesson you take a test on it right away, 24 hours later, a week later, 3 months later and a year later. You do not have to remember when you took each lesson, the software will remind you of them. The software also points out your mistakes (to prevent you from learning things wrong) and gives you extra practice on the words which are the hardest for you. 200 Words a Day is easy to use, effective and surely more interesting way to learn new words.

200 words a Day course has lessons with full sentences too. It is a good idea to try to memorize them. They give a good base for creating your own. The sentence lessons are combined with the word lessons in a way which makes it possible to see the lessons about single words related to the sentence in hand.

Writing skills

It is good to write your answers down to get used to the French spelling. Do exercises and take tests, and also try to do some free writing as well. Filling in words or translating sentences is one thing, but you will also have to learn how to express yourself freely, and that’s when it comes useful to write short stories or even letters. Perhaps you can find a French-speaking pen pal? I love getting letters, but if letter-writing seems like something too old-fashioned, feel free to write emails instead. The idea is to practice and it doesn’t matter which way you do it, as long as you do it.

Listening and understanding French

If you want to learn to understand spoken French and to pronounce it more or less right, you need to listen to it to let your brain get used to the different sound world. It does not matter if you do not understand what is being said at first. Just enjoy the beautiful sounds and intonations. There are plenty of online radio channels you can listen to while doing other things, and some interesting TV channels like TV 5 Monde as well. I prefer watching French films. I started with English subtitles to keep on track of what is going on, then moved to subtitles in French and nowadays I can watch them just like any other film.

When people think about French films, they often associate them with art, culture and to be honest, being dull and hard to understand. That is true with some films (just like the films in English), but I have found some very good and entertaining films, which I have watched several times. That is a great way to teach yourself French! Some examples are Amélie, L’Auberge Espagnole and Les Poupées Russes.


French pronunciation and speaking skills

As we all know, children do not have to study their native language, they just start using it spontaneously. There are certain brain mechanisms behind this ability to acquire a language without any conscious effort. To put it simply: when a child is born, they are prepared to learn any language. That’s partly because their brain is ready to learn any speech sound in any language. A baby listens to the language spoken around her and learns all the speech sounds used in the languages spoken around her. After a while she loses the ability to distinguish between the speech sounds in other languages she is not hearing in her social surroundings. This mechanism is there to help the child learn their native language(s), and is the reason why my kids are able to easily pronounce both English and French, but I had to practice it a lot and still have an accent.

I took a short course in French pronunciation. The teacher covered all the different letters and sounds and made us aware  of some pitfalls. That course was very useful to get me going. One course I was missing was a French conversation course for beginners, which just was not offered at the local language school when I started. I filled the gap with the TELL ME MORE software. You can also try to find a native French speaker from your area. Perhaps you can exchange language lessons over a cup of coffee: they can learn English from you and you can teach yourself French!