Most countries education system have a strange paradox. While it’s supposed to transmit the knowledge of foreign languages, it seems to have such a negative impact that many people leave it not only without speaking any foreign language, but also being convinced that they can’t do it. If it’s your case with French, you should rejoice: your bad experience in high school or university doesn’t mean that you are not made to learn French.
Before everything, I want to insist that I have no intention to criticize French or any foreign language teachers. Even though some of you still remember a French teacher with a horrible accent and way of teaching, there are also excellent teachers who must unfortunately deal with an education system completely off the mark.
School and foreign languages: a traumatic experience?
Maybe you were a diligent and hardworking student, maybe not. Anyway, it doesn’t matter: this article is precisely here to give you a remedy, without judgement, for your bad memories of high school. In the following paragraphs, I will present several recurring scenarios, which you can probably relate to, complemented by advices to overcome your obstacles and regain confidence in yourself.
“I’m afraid to make mistakes”
The school system leaves little room for experimentation and often penalizes mistakes as a fault, a proof that the student hasn’t studied hard enough. If we follow this absurd reasoning, it would be better to wait to know the language perfectly before opening the mouth, to be sure not to make mistakes.
The problem is: things don’t work like that. You must repeat, train yourself, even if it means making lots of mistakes.
The solution: accept to make mistakes and communicate without unashamedly.
Some exercises apps, like Duolingo, constitute a good way to experiment the language, without fearing the judgement of someone. Of course, you quickly need to step it up a notch: you don’t learn a language to be able to talk with machines.
To train yourself in full confidence, you can ask to a native of the language to correct your speaking and writing mistakes. There is also a website with a big community called Lang-8, which enable to write texts and to have them corrected by natives.
In any case, don’t forget that this fear of judgment is only inside your head and that even native speakers of a language make mistakes. In fact, it’s extremely rare that someone make fun of you or make negative remarks to you. In the cast majority of cases, you will instead raise admiration, which should help you fight against your fears. So forget about your perfectionism and accept to make mistakes.
“I don’t dare to talk, my accent is horrible”
In a conference organized by the Rosetta Stone in 2015 company, I learned that during the whole school period, a pupil talks in French on average only one hour! Not one hour per day, nor per week, but for the whole time he takes French classes.
Language classes are generally too overloaded to give to each pupil enough time to speak. If we add to this the fear of being ridiculous in front of others, some pupils never say a word, or only when they are asked to do so.
In these conditions, it’s difficult to find your own weak points regarding pronunciation, which all the more problematic with a language like French, very demanding on that point.
The solution: practice your speaking skills and have your pronunciation corrected
First of all, your accent is undoubtedly better than you think. Every people’s country have an accent when they speak a foreign language. I’ve heard French spoken in any possible and imaginable way, and honestly, English native speakers do better than many others.
Compared to your high school years, your options to speak French are numerous. If you are really paralyzed, start alone, at home. Practice with a software and repeat dialogues, like the ones of language learning method for example.
Then, the recipe is always the same: meet people to have conversations with, near your home or on Internet. The most important point is to identify your mistakes. It’s possible that you took bad pronunciation habits, especially with French. Don’t worry, with the help of a native speaker, you will end up pronouncing words correctly and you will quickly regain good habits.
“I never had the chance to go to France”
Many people think that to speak a language well, it’s only possible after having lived in that country where it is spoken. That’s completely wrong. Of course, living in France will help you learn French, as long as you are active in your learning. Some expats go in a foreign country for professional reasons but never the language, simply because they don’t make efforts to learn.
Conversely, it’s totally possible to create a complete immersion bubble without leaving your home and to reach an advanced level.
The solution: immerse yourself in the language
Never going to a country doesn’t prevent you from learning its language. To immerse yourself in that language, it’s always the same thing: watch movies and TV shows in OV, listen to music, read, write and have conversations in the language.
It’s by keeping a constant daily contact with the language that you will make important progress. Of course, you are totally free to go to France, Belgium, Switzerland… to progress even more in French. If you live in England, it shouldn’t be to expensive. If you are in the USA, there is also the French part of Canada not too far. If you are in Australia… well, you will have to save some money ^^.
“I’ve always sucked in French, and I had bad grades”
The school system tend to make your grades sacred, to a point where pupils adopt the following thinking: “This is my grade, si I’m worth that grade”. What’s crazy about it, is that this idea persists far beyond high school and creates a sort of glass ceiling in the mind of the learner.
The solution: your grades don’t mean anything, forget about them
Unless you are still in high school, your French final exams of high school probably feel like a long time ago. You have changed and you naturally have the right to try again to learn it. So forget about the grades you had at the time: they are completely meaningless today, and above all, they don’t mean that you are unable to learn French or any other language.
Regain confidence in yourself to learn languages
Maybe some of you had a great experience at school and don’t really understand what I’m talking about. For others, however, things were not as easy: not only they forgot everything after high school, but they kept a phobia of foreign languages, a deep belief that learning languages is not their thing.
If you can relate with this description, rest assured: the problems you had in the past are not irreversible and you can start to learn French again, whatever your age is.
Experience the pleasure to learn
This is what you probably lacked of during your teenage years: the pleasure to learn a foreign language, the simple fact to play with it and appropriate it. I must say that the school way of teaching doesn’t help much: busy days, homework, exams… Only the passionate teachers succeed in giving desire to their pupils to learn.
Now that all of this is behind you, you have the freedom to start on a good basis and to learn French the way you want, by choosing the teaching material that fits you best. Good luck for this new journey, the best is yet to come.