Eight Helpful Guidelines for Learning a Foreign Language

Here are eight guidelines for learning French (or another foreign language- I’m a bit biased…) based off of my experience as well as research to help you in your learning journey: (You can also find this in my course, “Learn French Naturally For Children and the Young at Heart 1“.)

  1. Find a language partner and/or a tutor/teacher. French is a living language. As such you will learn a lot more if you practice with another person. Plus, if you work with someone else it will help to keep you accountable to your learning goals. Invite someone to go through the class with you and commit to keeping each other on track!
  2. Set apart time for French in your daily schedule. When and where are you going to make time for French? Write it down. Do you learn best in the morning, the afternoon, or the evening? Also, think about how you can work on your French during the “dead times” of life: while waiting in line, sitting on the bus, waiting for a friend, right before bed, or right after waking up, etc… Be creative! The most important thing is to stick with it. It takes time to make it a habit.
  3. Focus on listening and reading French as you pay attention to the meaning of the message. In the language acquisition world this is known as comprehensible input. This is truly the only way that you can really take in the language. Speaking and writing is great, but they should be of secondary importance, particularly when you are first starting out.
  4. Focus on meaning, and not on grammar. Some students love to learn about grammar, and can learn the language in that context (at least to a certain extent), but most students do NOT learn a language well when there is a heavy focus on grammar. In fact, recent research shows that conscious learning of grammar has very little long-term positive effects in acquiring a language. Focusing on grammar can make learning the language more difficult because you can become more concerned with the structure of the language rather than the actually meaning of the message. Plus, in real life usage it is highly unlikely that you will have the time to stop and think through the “rules” of the language. With time you will naturally absorb and become comfortable with the structure of French.
  5. It is better to focus on a small amount of useful words that you are learning deeply rather than trying to learn a huge amount of vocabulary that you only know at a surface level. It takes a lot of repetition (hundreds if not thousands of times) to acquire the language to the point where you can understand it without having to consciously “remember” it, while also being able to speak or write it without strain. Also, this course primarily uses high frequency vocabulary– in other words, vocabulary that is most often used in the French language. This is the vocabulary that will serve you the best as you are first starting out in the language. You can find high frequency dictionaries or word lists if you are so inclined.
  6. Have fun with the language and don’t worry about being “right”. In other words, don’t worry about correcting yourself or others. With time your speaking and writing will naturally improve as you get more and more comprehensible input. If you are focusing on “being correct” it could hamper your ability to simply take in the language. Your brain was made to process and understand languages. Give it time and trust in the natural process.
  7. Don’t worry about producing (speaking and writing) the language until you’re ready to do so. Everyone is different. Some people will want to speak and write right away, while others will want more time before they feel comfortable expressing themselves in French. Don’t worry about being in a rush. Everyone is on their own time schedule. The worst thing is feeling pressured to produce before you’re ready. This can be a psychological block for learning the language and could stunt your growth in the language. It’s OK to give short one word responses or use gestures to express yourself when you’re a beginner in the language. Remember- babies don’t start talking right away either. It can take a lot of exposure to the language and time.
  8. As with everything else in life it’s up to you to figure out the things that help you the best. Not everything works for every single person, so if there’s something that doesn’t work for you don’t feel like you have to do it just because someone told you to. I would encourage you to really try it out first before you make a final decision, though. You’ll never know if you don’t try it out for yourself!

I truly hope that these guidelines help you out on your language learning journey. This should also give you a bit of an idea of the teaching/learning philosophy that I’m coming from. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns!

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