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I'm a newcomer to France, I've have never had a formal education in French at school (being raised in South Africa), and i'm really trying to improve my French by:

  • Taking lessons once a week,
  • Reading comics (Tintin, Blake et Mortimer),
  • Reading books (currently Harry Potter but started with books for small children) every day,
  • Listening to Podcasts (Learn French by Podcast, Daily French Pod) while travelling,
  • Watching 30 minutes of French TV a day.

Despite this, i think i've hit a plateau and i'm not really improving any more. I still struggle to understand news-readers, people on the phone, etc. One-on-one in person is best, but still not very good.

What kind of resources (of any nature) have you found to be helpful for learning to speak French? I work from home so i get very few opportunities to actually speak to people — which I think would be the best tool!

Moderator note: This question has attracted many answers of the form “use this website, it's the best thing ever”. Any such answer will be summarily deleted. Please provide answers that raise above spam level.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

The automatic question evaluator is working well. Please read the answers on this question. This isn't a useful question (and CW is irrelevant). –  Gilles Aug 24 '11 at 22:16
Thanks for your response @Gilles - i agree that it's not necessarily "on-topic" but it's certainly useful (to me anyway!). As a (i guess :)) Francophone i can also see why it's not useful to you - but useful to other non-native speakers? Happy to delete it if the consensus is that it doesn't belong here. :) –  alpian Aug 24 '11 at 22:20
This has nothing with how useful answers would be to me personally. This type of questions has proved not to generate useful sets of answers on Stack Exchange. It's also awfully open-ended, and not particularly specific to French to boot (consider how much you'd need to change if you were learning Swahili). See also this meta question. –  Gilles Aug 24 '11 at 22:33
@Gilles - My answer doesn't work for Swahili. –  mouviciel Dec 16 '11 at 8:25
His comments are here because he was being right imho. –  Riguefort Ultraquaillette Feb 19 at 11:20

6 Answers 6

up vote 16 down vote accepted

For understanding I suggest (besides the obvious time spent listening) to listen specifically to children's audio books and to "bad" movies.

The reason is that in these settings there are over-emphasized phrases that are "over-pronounced" and this is one of the ways to actually get your auditory brain to decide what kind of new sounds are important before putting in dumb exercise time.

For speaking nothing really replaces speaking which is conspicuously absent from your list. Do you have the opportunity to set up skype tandem sessions with someone who wants to learn your language in turn?

Another thing that somewhat helps with speaking is to form lots of sentences in your head. For example, in the metro, I would look at the ads and speak any number I saw in French in my head, and my number-to-French conversion has indeed become automatic very quickly. Or I play shopping conversations in my head while going to the shop.

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Thanks @thei - i actually mentioned that speaking is the best tool but i live in a fairly isolated part of France - the skype-chat idea is something i'll investigate. I tried children's audio books (Le Petit Chaperone Rouge) but found it hard to follow with all the "put-on" voices! Maybe i'll give it another go now i'm more advanced... :) –  alpian Aug 24 '11 at 22:27
@alpian I am thinking more about –  Phira Aug 24 '11 at 23:46

I'd strongly suggest finding a local group that speaks French socially, and going along! is a good way to do this, but it isn't the only way to find groups. (It just so happens to be very strong on French language groups near where I live, which is why I know about it).

Once you've located a nearby group that welcomes people at your level, go along and practice. I find it's a very different feeling talking during a weekly class, more relaxed and often with a wider variety of discussions on things that interest you. It's a great way to pick up vocab and confidence, for both speaking and listening. The only possible downside is that people are usually fairly forgiving of small errors at that sort of event, so you'll want to still do some classes so you've got a teacher to pick up your mistakes!

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In big cities in France, you can take lessons at L'Alliance française. Many foreigner friends of mine found that this is a great experience, not only because of the high quality of lessons but also because of the social events with all the students and french as the only common language.

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Sorry, but where can I found more informations about the courses on the site you provided? It seems more like a corporate advertising site, I can't found anything useful. –  Liviu Jan 21 '14 at 13:34
@Liviu Unfortunately, you are correct. At the time I wrote my answer, the site was more useful for students. –  mouviciel Jan 21 '14 at 14:25

I've never been in a position to try this myself, but one thing you could do is go talk to elderly people. They are often bored and will be grateful for some human interaction and conversation even if it's with a foreigner who can't speak very well. Just go to wherever they hang out, or go to an old folks' home. Elderly people love telling stories.

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Immersion helped my French extremely and attempting to be friends with French. Don't be shy, attempt to talk to everyone.

Also, try to learn the tenses for some important verbs.

ex. to go aller irai (future, je) je vais aller (near future) I'm going je suis allé (past tense) i went

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This answer was designed for an English speaker who starts from scratch; it is not focused on speech but rather on fundamentals and tools, as I find awareness of these somewhat lacking, and being exposed to random popular content and one-size-fits-all online training, overrated.

Take charge; usually a language class involves incremental lessons about grammar with some lexicon using various types of activities, such as conversation. If you have to rely heavily on the English language, make sure to first read the Wikipedia article on the French language and all linked material, notes and external links in English(see also English words with French origins, and French Literature with some reading cues.) Getting to know the International Phonetic Alphabet and how it is leveraged in French should prove essential with pronunciation. Aside from audio content such as what you mention, you can generate audio from any word/sentence using the Google translate engine like so(simply input your words in the URL; not perfect yet useful). To understand and research the things you hear and read about, a small "tool chain" made from available references1 is useful; for example:

[ TLFi ] - Definitions & quotes from classic authors(look them up; use Google translate to help)
[ Verb tenses tool x y z ] - Enter whatever conjugated verb to figure out the tense.
[ Collins ] - En-Fr / Fr-En (see also Cambridge) - Translation with examples
[ Google Ngram viewer ] - Generate and analyze contexts and trends in books

This edition of Jean de La Fontaine's classic fables is illustrated; this can prove challenging but that shouldn't stop anyone, as all the tools are available and questions can be asked on this very site. A beginner need not settle for easy, and could research all the words they find in one of those fables and use clues from their native language as they read, trying to grasp the gist of the sentences. Maybe printing one of these small fables, pinning it somewhere and learning it by heart could be useful. Whatever the activity, take notes for further research on topics you have a real interest in and keep track of your progress.2

1. Aside from the grammar section provided from the link, see Bonjour de France and the paper version of "Le petit Grevisse - grammaire française".

2. If you want to challenge youself with etymology and in depth grammar, maybe look for the Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, sous dir. Alain Rey, ed. Le Robert, and Le Bon Usage, Grevisse et Goosse, ed. Duculot.

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