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 understood nothing 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.
I even started to look a bit French!
But just as important, was listening to other people speaking French.
What were the tactics that worked?
I often reflect on the techniques and tactics I used to learn French and how over time the language began to fall into place.
In truth, it was a combination of trying lots of approaches and being determined to keep on trying until it began to feel more natural. This meant speaking as much as possible. Deliberately inserting words that were difficult to pronounce into sentences. Starting conversations with all sorts of people and being prepared to laugh at myself when I got it wrong.
Listening was as important as speaking
But just as important, was listening to other people speaking French. In the early days, I would congratulate myself if I understood 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 abut 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 Sunday meet ups, join a group conversation class or come to one of our 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.