Firstly, from my own experience. I learnt to speak French within a year of living in Lyon, France. By the end of 12 months I knew what was going on around me, could hold a simple conversation and breeze through everyday situations like the market or the shops.
Secondly, having taught French to adults over the last 10 years, I know it is possible. The people who get to that level of French in a year are the ones who really want it and are prepared to put in the time and effort. Time and effort that pays itself back it barrel loads! Imagine yourself at a French market and being able to understand what’s going on around you , feeling confident in the scenario and even making small talk with the stall holders. That could be you too in year’s time!
Finally, thousands of people have already done it! Every week I meet new students to The French Room who already speak French and want to keep it up or take their French to another level. These people are proving time and time again that it can be done!
Every single person I have ever met, who speaks a second language, has one thing in common. They are good at languages because:
These 3 things are the key ingredients to being a second language speaker. It’s not being a natural at languages. It’s not whether you studied it at school. And it’s not even living in the country itself. Yes, contrary to popular belief, many, many French speakers have never lived in France and don’t even go there every year! You can do this wherever you are. You just need to approach it right!
Fear can kill your language learning before you even utter your first word. In my opinion, it is not a particularly useful emotion in life in general and it’s positively toxic when it comes to language learning .
Why is it so common to feel such anxiety when trying to speak another language? And it is common. For some people it is an actual full blown phobia with all the neandathal fight, flight or freeze emotions that come with that.
Does it have the same root as a fear of standing up and speaking in front of people? I suspect it does. That throat closing sensation, clamming up, brain shutting down feeling, that some people never surpass whatever their age, can be overcome. Just like a fear of public speaking can be overcome so too you can set yourself free of any fear when speaking French. And when you do put that behind you the rewards are huge.
Let’s look at this problem with some objectivity. Maybe, we feel like every word we set free from our mouth in French is being judged and analysed?
But what’s the reality? Communication between people doesn’t work like that does it. In fact, I’m sure most people would put their hands up and say it would be nice if people listened more carefully and paid a bit more attention to what we are saying. Afterall, it’s fairly unusual to hear people complain that they listened to, too intently isn’t it?
It’s likely, that what is actually going on when someone speaks a foreign language, is that the listener is actively trying their best to understand what the speaker is saying. Native speakers don’t notice grammatical errors like your teachers at school did. Nor do they analyse your syntax, a sentence is uttered, it is understood and the next phrase is already in train. There’s no time or point in looking for perfection. No one speaks perfectly. Communication is not an exam.
One of the first things that people learning French at The French Room say is; “I feel at ease and relaxed and realise that I am given the time and space to speak without being rushed. When I make mistakes it’s built upon for the whole class to learn from. I don’t really feel anxious about speaking anymore”.
I always wanted to be able to speak French. When my opportunity came, I knew I was going to enjoy it, because to me it’s a kind of game.
You can set yourself any number of challenges when you are learning a second language and when you succeed and achieve what you want, the feeling you get is all the reward you need.
So, for example, at the beginning I tried my best to understand what the adverts on billboards were actually saying in French. That was my first challenge and when I thought I had a reasonable idea of the meaning, I tried out my new skill in conversation. When it worked, to me, it felt like I’d moved up a level and made me ready for my next mini challenge. Over and over, I go through this process, even now, and it still gives me the same level of satisfaction when I achieve my goals.
It is also true that when you learn a second language there are days when you feel like you are sliding backwards. This is just par for the course for everyone and maybe it just makes those wins that bit more satisfying.
People who get comfortable speaking a second langauge have one over-riding objective and that is to communicate. Someone who wants to communicate well with someone else will look for every available opportunity to make it easier for their listener to understand what they are saying.
In some cases this means resorting to the international language of mime! Not a bad strategy if you believe the study done by Mehrabian who said that over 58% of communication in some situations is non-verbal!
In any case, a live speaking situation is not the time to be worrying precisely every single word someone has said to you. Gist is enough followed up by some clarifying questions. Equally, your sentences do not need to be straight out of a grammar book. You are going with the flow and in the moment. The words that flow at that time are the best words you can find. In your French classes you have practised and tried it all out and been corrected and studied the grammar behind it. But in that conversational moment the main thing you need to focus on is bringing as much as that together as you can and listening to what’s being said next.
Sometimes, it means picking out a sequence of key words that indicate what you are trying to convey.
Always, it means that you as the speaker are using all your creativity and ingenuity to find a way to get your point across. Over time, as you do this you will spot the patterns of the language and how they can be used in all sorts of situations, you’ll develop a keen ear for clocking what works and in some ways will become expert at mimicking fluent speakers!
That’s great. You have read this far and it sounds like you might be up for the challenge of speaking French in a year.
To get started you can book straight into a class now. I recommend, however, that you take advantage of the free 15 minute langauge assessment I offer over Zoom. It’s your chance to talk to me about your goals and my opportunity to make sure you are matched to the right class for you.