January 26, 2017

How to speak French within a year

If you are curious and have an open mind, there is every chance that you could learn how to speak French within a year.

Superman cartoon

What makes me qualified to make such a claim? Is it really possible to learn how to speak French in a year?

  • Well, I learnt how to speak French within a year
  • Having taught languages to many people, I’ve seen the results
  • Everyday, I meet people who have learnt to speak English within a year and I know it’s perfectly possible for an English speaker to do the same with French

This isn’t a miracle.  It’s totally achievable to speak French to a level at which you feel comfortable within a year.

So how do you speak French within a year?

All the people I have come across who speak a second language have something in common. They don’t fear making mistakes, they treat their learning as a game or exciting challenge and their objective is to communicate.

Fear of making mistakes is the number one obstacle to learning a second language

In my opinion, fear is not a particularly useful emotion and before you even utter a word, it could be the death knell to language learning . Where does it come from? My guess, is that it might be akin to that hugely shared fear of speaking in public. Apparently, the number one phobia in the world is a fear of public speaking. Maybe, it’s because we feel like our every word is being analysed and judged.

The reality though, is that communication between people doesn’t work like that. 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. It’s unusual to hear people complain that they listened to, too intently.

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.

Luckily, people learning a foreign language with me, put their fear of mistakes to one side. This opens up their first step to speaking comfortably within a year.

If you are interested in some thoughts about how fear sets limitation, this Ted Talk from astronaut Chris Hadfield has some interesting points to make.

Treat learning as a game. It’s an exciting challenge

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.

Blue speech bubbleThe objective is to be able to communicate

People who get comfortable speaking a second language 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 a study done in 1967 by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, that found that body language accounts for about 60% of communication!

Sometimes, it means picking out a sequence of key words that indicate what you are trying to convey.

In all cases, it means that the speaker is using all their creativity and ingenuity to find a way to get their point across. Over time, a language learner who does this will spot the patterns of the language and how they can be used in all sorts of situations, will develop a keen ear for clocking what works and in some ways will become experts at mimicking fluent speakers.

It is possible to be comfortable speaking French within a year

If you take these tips into consideration, there’s a really strong chance that you will be comfortable speaking French within a year.