In case you needed another reason to start learning French, here are a few: It’s the first or second language spoken in over 40 countries, and 125 million people speak it, according to the Education Office of the French Cultural Service. If you’re working in a career field that includes international business, being able to communicate with those 125 million people will definitely put you at an advantage.
As an English speaker, you’ll probably find that it’s a fairly easy language to learn as far as foreign languages go, because English is based on a combination of both French and German. Still, if you need some help knowing where to start, here’s how to learn French.
1. Sign up for a class
Sure, it sounds like a no-brainer to say that you should enter a language class in order to learn a language, but here’s why it can help: You’ll be forced to study the language with some measure of discipline. Even taking one semester -- or signing up for a language class lasting just a few months -- will jumpstart your language learning, and teach you what rules are important. From there, it will get a lot easier to try some of the other tactics mentioned below. If your boss wants you to learn French for your job, ask if the company will pay for your training. It never hurts to ask...
2. Join a language group
Learning a language requires plenty of time spent engaged in casual conversation, where you’ll be forced to learn certain words in order to keep the conversation going. If you don’t have any French-speaking friends with whom you can practice, a French conversation club or group will help you do that. Often, the groups are led by a native speaker or other expert who can help guide the conversation. Joining groups where others are interested in French can also turn you onto musical events, plays or other social gatherings where French speakers will be present.
Check out sites such as Meetup.com, where people can find other people who want to engage in the same types of activities.
3. Download language apps
Aim to teach yourself one or two key words a day by downloading a French language app to your phone. More advanced apps will also give you mini grammar lessons, which can help you continue to learn the language bit by bit.
4. Read French TV and read French newspapers
Immersing yourself in the language can also involve practicing your passive listening skills. You might not get everything that’s said, but challenge yourself by watching a French movie, without the English subtitles, once a week. Also try reading French papers, which can help you gain confidence, as reading is often one of the first skills you’ll pick up.
5. Visit French-speaking countries
Nothing will jumpstart your efforts to learn French more than total immersion. Ideally, try to stay in an environment where you won’t be able to speak your native tongue, and where you’ll have to practice French. Stay with a host family in a language program, for example, or go to a more remote part of the country you’re visiting -- away from the capital city -- where the chances of encountering English speakers will be far less. Stay for a few weeks -- or even months -- and you’ll be surprised at how much French you can pick up.
6. Make it a long-term goal
Learning French -- or any language -- effectively requires persistence and lots of repetition, reminds the French Today website. You might encounter websites or programs that promise to teach you to be fluent in a matter of weeks, but that’s really a long shot. To learn the language, you have to read, speak, listen and write French regularly, and that’s going to take time.
Learning any language is a challenging endeavor, and with the silent letters, accents and other nuances of French, it’s sure to be a challenge. But when you start to lose hope that you’re ever going to get it, remind yourself that you’re not just doing this for fun and the intellectual cred you’ll get among your peers, but also because it’s going to help you in your career.