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A language expert's top three tips for learning French

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A language expert's top three tips for learning French
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Many people struggle with learning French, a language with plenty of complex grammar rules and tricky gendered nouns. The Local asked French language expert Camille Chevalier-Karfis her top three tips to help you learn French more efficiently.


Learning French can be a daunting experience - the grammar is complicated (oh, the dreaded subjunctive) and pronunciation can differ greatly to how the word is actually written on paper.

For most people their French-learning journey will be a long one with a mixture of formal classes, informal French practice with friends, neighbours and colleagues and some learning aids like French TV or radio.

But there's always room for a little help in making your language-learning as efficient as possible, so The Local spoke with French language expert Camille Chevalier-Karfis, teaches French and runs the website French Today. 

You can hear Camille swapping language-learning tips with the team at The Local in the latest episode of the Talking France podcast - download it HERE or listen on the link below


Here are her three top tips to boost your progress;

Tip 1: Learn French with Audio


"I am amazed to see that there are so many people who are still learning French only from books, and as such they do not have the pronunciation", said Camille.

She explained that pronunciation can be particularly tricky with French, especially if you are only learning using written text.

She noted the trouble language learners have with liaisons in French. For instance, the phrase Ils ont (They have) is roughly pronounced 'ils zont' with the liason between both words.

Other phrases like Je suis allé (I went) and Je ne sais pas (I do not know) also have liaisons which make the pronunciation different from what one might expect when looking at the written version.

"When it comes to learning French, stick to level appropriate audio, if you are a beginner, find audio made for beginners", she told The Local.

"Learn everything with audio alongside. Don't just use it for conversations".

So when it comes to learning how to conjugate, build your vocabulary, or anything else, seek out ways to hear what it sounds like too.


Tip 2: Don't over-intellectualise your approach

Camille's second tip is basically summarised as "keep it simple".

"A lot of students learn French as an intellectual challenge - they are interested in the mental stimulation they get from trying to decipher French grammar", she explained.

"A lot of people hate French grammar but in fact, a lot of people also love French grammar - they approach it like a mathematical problem and they want to challenge their brains". 

However, she cautioned against turning French learning into too much of an intellectual puzzle.

"That is something you can do on top of your French studies. But if you are learning French to communicate, you need to do exactly the contrary - you need to simplify your sentences", she elaborated.

"You cannot show your wit in the beginning".


Tip 3: Be humble

Finally, the French language expert recommends staying humble.

"You are going to make mistakes, there is no way around it", Camille said, adding that many language-learners feel frustrated by their inability to express themselves the way they would like to.

"You cannot show your real voice when you're still learning", the expert told The Local. "But please do not think people will think you are stupid because you cannot conjugate a verb in its correct form.

"And if they do think you're stupid then they are the stupid ones because you are the one speaking French!"

The other thing she mentioned is a possible cultural difference that Anglophone French-learners might stumble upon in France.

"The French have a tendency to correct people. French is a difficult language and that's how we teach French to our children. We correct them all the time, and we tend to do the same thing to adults.

"Don't take it personally if you are corrected. It does not mean they think you are stupid, it's just that they are so accustomed to doing this that it may not have crossed their mind that it might block you from speaking French".


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Anonymous 2023/02/16 19:22
For listening and reading, there is a learner's magazine called Bien-Dire. It comes with audio of native Francophones reading the articles in it, so I can read and listen at the same time. I've found it very helpful. They also make a version for French people learning English - I think it's called Go English.

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