If it was easy to learn French like a b c, 1 2 3… you would already be fluent in French. Unfortunately, it’s not the case, and the reason why people fail are numerous. Whether it be at the beginning of the learning process or after some time, the threat of giving up everything abruptly or progressively is always there. Let’s analyze the traps you may fall into in order to thwart them better.
Learning French: a good resolution or a dud
Any project, including learning French, works a bit like a New Year’s resolution. At the beginning, you are motivated, full of enthusiasm in front of this new journey ; you work very hard and your goal is to be able to hold a conversation in a very short time. Then, after a few weeks, or a few months for the most determined, your consistence of work decreases and your progress as well.
After a while, your project completely fell apart, and when someone ask you how you are doing so far, your answer is a bit like this: “Oh you know… it’s slow going… I don’t have so much time at the moment…”. In short, it’s over, you are not speaking French at all and you will even forget what you’ve learned so far.
If you recently took the good resolution to learn French, don’t worry: I started to learn Chinese mandarin (which is slightly more difficult…) on a January 1st and I still didn’t give up by now! The purpose of this article is to guide you step by step.
A chronological perspective
Let’s take the comparison with the good resolution again. Imagine someone who wants to start learning French. Let’s follow this person step by step, focusing on the obstacles he will inevitably have to face.
1st obstacle: “I don’t know where to start”
You might have forgotten this one, but it may be the most important one, because it can simply prevent the person from taking the first step!
The symptoms: your dream of speaking French fluently greatly motivates you. You are already imagining yourself completely bilingual, with your relatives so jealous of your new ability, conversing without any difficulty with native French speakers.
The problem is: you have no idea how to get learning this beautiful French language that nobody is using around you. The project remains in a dream state, and it doesn’t become a reality.
The remedies: as a motivating starting point, I can identify two solutions, namely French course methods or taking French classes. Concerning the course methods, it’s not always easy to choose. You can search on internet or libraries to find the course method you like the most. As I’ve explained many times, course methods have the great advantage of providing a motivating “road map” you just have to follow. If you want, you can check the course I created to learn French, which focus on real spoken French with realistic conversations: the BlogFrench Course.
Regarding French classes, the place where you live is very important: obviously, the provision of courses is much bigger in big cities than in the middle of nowhere in the countryside. These classes can take different forms: a course in university, evening class, private teacher, group class, private institutes, or even provided by companies… Once again, inform yourself well, search all the small ads to find the best thing for you.
2nd obstacle: “I can’t discipline myself”
Full of enthusiasm, you are loving learning French every day, it’s your greatest pleasure of the day. Unfortunately, once the excitement is gone, your motivation waver and you don’t know how to pass from the experimental state to a daily effective routine.
The symptoms: Studying can be a pleasure at the beginning, but it quickly becomes a chore. Your desire to learn French is always the same, but now you are getting bored. Unable to discipline yourself, you are studying less regularly, and you become less rigorous. So it’s a double problem: bad studying habits and weak motivation to “swallow the bitter pill”.
The remedies: Since we have a double problem, I have a double solution. To study better, force yourself to do it as regularly as possible, in short sessions. Another effective activity is to be accountable to someone: for example, in the context of a class (private or in a group), of a challenge with some friends, or even of a blog, like the famous Irish polyglot Benny Lewis recommends it.
Another way is to invest money in your education: buy a course method or register in a fee-paying class. Even if this is not compulsory, you will think twice before giving up a project you paid hard-earned money for. Regarding your motivation, try to vary your sources of education: find a French partner, watch French movies or series, prepare yourself for a trip in France if you can afford it. Learning French should never be just a simple intellectual activity, but a concrete reality rooted in your daily life.
3rd obstacle: “I’m not learning as fast as before”
At first, your progress is impressive: You are quickly able to formulate sentences, and even hold a simple conversation. Sadly, you are learning slower and slower.
The symptoms: Whatever you try to do, even if you are learning regularly, you are progressing more and more slowly. You are wondering what’s wrong with you, why you are not able to learn more vocabulary, and you get angry at the grammar because it seems completely senseless and stupid to you. In this situation, it’s totally normal to feel a bit lost and alone, to wonder if the course you are doing is the right one. Discouragement lurks behind you…
The remedies: First, this phenomenon is perfectly normal. Your progress will always be faster at the beginning and slower as you learn. For example, my level of Chinese mandarin (beginner) is improving a lot, whereas my level of Portuguese (advanced) is improving much more slowly.
If you still have a few memories of your math classes in high school, improvements in a language are very similar to an asymptote: the beginning is very fast, and the follow-up is slower and slower, until it reaches a theoretical plate.
Talking about scientific theories, have you ever heard about the Pareto Principle, also called the 80-20 law? To make it simple, 20% of the causes produce 80% of the outcomes. Well you should know that the Pareto Principle applies also to language learning. Indeed, the first words and expressions you will learn are the most useful ones.
or instance, you will be able to say many things once you will have mastered the verb être, to be, much more than when you will have learned the verb baragouiner, to smatter. To summarize, there are no magical remedy to this obstacle: keep calm and persevere, you are on the right track.
4th obstacle: “I’ve reached my goal, but now I’m stagnating”
This time, it’s a disaster: you’ve made it, you persevered to learn French little by little, accepting that it would take time. Yet, you arrive at a point where it seems that to progress even more, you would have to make efforts which seem disproportionate and not feasible for you. You just cannot get there.
The symptoms: While you are learning more and more slowly, you are even starting to forget vocabulary. Your spare time or your personal situation don’t allow you to go to France, or to practice French regularly…
This problem often happens when you’ve learned different languages et and you don’t have enough time to study all of them.
The remedies: First of all, congratulations! It means you have arrived at an advanced level in French. Your challenge will especially be to not forget everything you’ve learned in the past months or years. To do this, you can try to set advanced challenges, like to write articles in French or even to try to make your accent closer to a native’s accent. Even better, a very inspiring solution would be to start teaching French!
In martial arts, teaching is considered an intermediate step in the evolution of a practitioner. It doesn’t mean you have to become a teacher: you can just participate in language tandems, give private lessons, converse with other learners through Skype.
To conclude, remember that you will always have to face obstacles on your journey to learn French, whatever your level is. Keep this article somewhere, and don’t hesitate to consult it whenever you feel blocked in your learning process.