When I set off to France, in 1991, to start a new job in Lyon, I was pretty confident that I had enough French to get by.

It didn’t take me long to realise though, that I didn’t understand anything that was going on around me and that I couldn’t actually say any French words out loud!


After about a year of about 50% French immersion ( I was part of a large ex-pat English speaking community too), I could understand and be understood in most every day situations.

No parler francais

I even started to look a bit French!

Listening was as important as speaking

Listening to other people speaking French is such an important part of learning a language. In the early days, I would be pleased if I understood just a couple of words in a row or generally got the gist of the conversation.


Sometimes, I think I might have looked like someone watching a tennis match as I silently followed the conversation as it swung from one person to another. This was easily as important as speaking, as I listened to pronunciation and intonation and watched how body language became an extension of certain words and phrases.


Eventually, I was able to mimic this and use my ear to check whether something sounded right. It wasn’t infallible but it did help.

Are you practising your listening and speaking skills enough?

If this worked for me, maybe it could also work for you. Learning a language is about trial and error and using all 4 skills; reading, writing, speaking and listening. 

If you would like to focus a little more on speaking and listening why not come along to one of our group conversation classes or one off events. You might just come along and listen or you may get stuck into conversation. Either way you’ll be practising your French whatever level you’re at.

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