Learning French is not an easy task. It’s an effort which requires a lot of time and motivation, as well as a very strict discipline to go through any difficulties. Yet, when people fail to learn French, it’s often not a matter of difficulty. In fact, many people fail to learn French for the simple and good reason that they never started to learn. Let’s talk about the delicate subject of “the first step” and let’s see how we can make it as pleasing as possible.
1) Relativizing the first step
The first step to learn French can be compared to the anxiety of the blank page for a writer: you really want to get started, you prepare yourself convinced that everything’s going to be fine, but as soon as you have to take action, nothing happens, and you find yourself completely blocked. This phenomena corresponds to the first obstacle I was talking about in another article, “I don’t know where to start” : To pass from the idea to the project. This first step is so important that I thought I should write a whole article about it.
You may have already started to learn French
If you are wondering if you should learn French or not, maybe it’s because without even realizing it, you are already in contact with this language. If you are on this blog, maybe it’s because you are a fan of French culture, you love everything about France, and you wish you could speak French to be able to understand your favorite French movies and music. Well in fact, you have already started the learning process by watching and listening to them.
Even better, take some time to realize that French surrounds you much more than you think and that you already know quite a certain amount of French words: rendez-vous, savoir-faire, chauffeur, bon voyage… Not to mention the countless words in English that share the same root or are even exactly the same as French words: information, table, comfortable, accessible… : Time to face the facts, even if you’ve never learned it, you already speak a bit French!
So take some time to reflect about your current situation in order to better identify your needs. For example, if you have never practiced French, your level is the one of a “complete beginner”. If, on the opposite, you have learned it at school but you forgot it afterwards, you are rather a “fake beginner”. Even if you are sincerely convinced to have forgotten everything, it’s still not the same thing!
2) The two cornerstones to start learning French
Define a good strategy
Learning French is never just a sequence of concrete actions aiming at memorizing information. You see? Nothing mysterious about this! Once you got this, ask yourself what will be these concrete actions for you. Will you try a course method? Register in an evening course? Regarding language classes, if you are afraid to try to take some, you should know that there are many institutes which offer free initiation, in order to convince indecisive people. Like this, you will be able to decide if you like it or not without any regret.
Since we have talked about the financial aspect, I’ll touch briefly this subject: basically, you must find the right balance. Blog French supports the following approach: learning French should never be expensive. There is a lot of good quality free material: dedicated website, software, even some courses. Do research, you could be surprised!
However, it would be a shame to fall into this “only-free-stuff” obsession and to deprive yourself of very interesting material just because ou have to pay for it. Once again, be aware of your budget and your needs, but don’t be afraid to invest in your project. If for example you think you are saving money by buying only the written version of a method just because CDs (or MP3) are too expensive, think twice: you will probably lose much more money afterwards when you try to get rid of the bad habits you have developed in your pronunciation…
To conclude on this point, consider your investment an extra source of motivation: you are more likely to not give up a project you invested money on. If, on the opposite, you categorically refuse to spend money, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you are truly motivated…
Once you have chosen your education material, you still have to set goals for the upcoming months. For this, I redirect you to the article SMART goals, where you will find all the information you need. When you have accomplished all these tasks, congratulations: you know where you have to go and you have a solid background for your learning process.
Just a few words for more experienced readers: it’s perfectly fine to study without using a course method or taking classes, provided to clearly know what you are doing. I wouldn’t advise this way of learning French to beginners, because it means you have a strong natural motivation, and you are able to create your own path toward your goal in your learning process. It’s more difficult than it seems, and courses or classes can already do it for you: so why not using this advantage?
Create the appropriate environment
One of the often recurring myth when you want to learn French is without doubt: “you can only learn the language in immersion”. I don’t like this sentence for two reasons: first of all, because it gives the wrong impression that it’s impossible to learn French if you are not living in France. Next, because “immersion” is a very fuzzy and abstract concept which is more likely to get you lost instead of helping you.
Despite this rant, I can only advise you to create an appropriate environment to your learning process. Outside of your lessons, revise your vocabulary, watch movies and series in French, find native speakers to converse with, get interested in the French culture. In short, you’ve got to integrate the French language to your way of life, by focusing on activities that you like. I call these elements the “motivation relays”, because they are the one which will provide the necessary motivation to your project once the enthusiasm of the beginning will have disappeared.
3) This system works only if you put it into practice!
These two components of your learning process, which are your main strategy (taking classes with a teacher, lessons in an online course, etc.) and the environment you create around it, are both equally important. If you leave aside the first one, you will lack of a concrete direction to progress on ; if you neglect the second one, your motivation will quickly fall back.
Finally, one last thing to make your system work: start to use French as soon as you start to learn it. Speak in French, read in French, listen to French, write in French: be curious and active. Of course, you won’t go really far at the beginning, but you will develop a strong mindset which will enable you to progress without even realizing it.
A good start in learning French allows you to study efficiently while remaining durably motivated. Of course, it’s not the end of your hardships, but you already did the most important part: to get started!