Talk the talk: learning to speak French

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Making the move across the Channel can be a learning curve, but mastering the French language will be fun and rewarding, as Alice Phillpott explains

The French language is considered by many as one of the most beautiful in the world mainly because of its lyrical, romantic quality and the way in which it can be eloquently spoken.

However, due to its fairly complex syntax and verb conjugations, French can sometimes present a daunting task, especially for beginners. Not only that, but the written and spoken forms are vastly different. Indeed, with an abundance of silent letters and scattering of troublesome liaisons, people learning French often find that working consistently with audio examples can be extremely beneficial and help combat any discrepancies.

Nevertheless, learning a language can be an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience and is therefore a challenge well worth undertaking. If you’re serious about relocating to France, being able to speak the language properly will pay enormous dividends and enable you to immerse yourself in the country’s rich culture.

TAKE THE PLUNGE

Just think, there is a fascinating world of media awaiting you that is not monopolised by reality TV programmes. You’ll be able to develop deeper relationships with locals that go beyond the purchase of a daily baguette. Plus, you can fully experience all the bureaucratic paraphernalia that comes with life en France and even get caught up in a contretemps (heated discussion).

In today’s English language-dominated universe, the importance of being able to communicate effectively in another language can be drastically overlooked. However, many expats living in France will vouch for the fact that you’ll need decent language skills, if only to deal with the relentless paperwork.

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A sound knowledge of French when tackling important everyday situations such as opening a bank account or discussing a medical problem undoubtedly makes for a smoother and more satisfying experience.

Then there’s the enthusiastic neighbour who attempts to lure you into a debate about François Hollande’s controversial tax policies; the opportunities for you to demonstrate your linguistic talents really are endless.

Similar to how you learnt your native tongue, the steady acquisition of a second language requires as much immersion as possible. A timid, self-conscious approach simply will not do. Immersion is the way a child learns to speak and if complemented with extensive grammar and vocabulary, practice provides the perfect recipe for communicating successfully.

It is also worth noting that language and culture are inseparable. Learning French is much more than just words and sounds; it’s also about the people and their art and music – all of which you will have unlimited access to once you have mastered the language.

TOP OF THE CLASS

If you’re lacking inspiration, why not adopt an exaggerated French accent to help you get into the mood? Practise your best pout in front of the mirror. Alternatively, un bon vin blanc usually helps to loosen the tongue!

After all, success in languages is largely about imitating. Consider learning whole sentences and expressions to use in specific contexts as opposed to just focusing on isolated words.

To reduce the risk of feeling overwhelmed, start by learning what you actually want and need to know; you are far more likely to retain the language if it is interesting and relevant.

It is also important to remain realistic from the outset – unfortunately, you won’t become fluent overnight or even within a month. It is a gradual process, a precious investment.

If you fancy getting a head start before your move to France, consider signing up to a free conversation exchange website such as www.mylanguageexchange.com. This will enable you to rehearse your language skills on familiar ground and is also a great way to make new friends. Above all, have fun – view learning French as a joint project to embark on with your partner.

If even the very prospect of learning a language provokes a certain malaise, console yourself with these helpful guidelines:

1. Meet the locals – nothing compares to an authentic exchange with a native speaker. Initiate a brief conversation with your neighbour or local shopkeeper.

2. The power of repetition - this sounds simple and possibly odd but speaking the words out loud is important and can aid immensely with pronunciation.

3. Talk - obvious but essential for fast progression. Seize any opportunity you get to converse in French.

4. Never be afraid of making mistakes - it’s an inevitable feature of the learning process. Rest assured as yet no one has been guillotined in France for committing a grammatical error.

5. Daily revision - make a commitment to devote some time each day, no matter how little, to practise what you’ve learnt.

6. Translate as little as possible – adults tend to learn a language by comparing it with their native language. Resist the urge to want to know why something is said a certain way as it can be unproductive.

7. Read a local newspaper - a challenging but extremely effective way of expanding your vocabulary and knowledge of current affairs. The popular 20 Minutes is free and available in most major towns.

8. Watch French songs with lyrics on YouTube - a simple and fun way to reinforce pronunciation and widen vocabulary.

9. Beware of people seeking to practise their English to your detriment – possibly the biggest obstacle you may need to overcome. Perseverance is the key!

10. Use a variety of methods – everyone has a different learning style; learn the way that truly works best for you.

And if you’re sitting there feeling convinced it’s too late to jump on the bandwagon, au contraire research indicates that knowledge of a second language can reduce the risk of developing certain memory-related neurological disorders. It is undoubtedly one of the best ways to keep your mind fit. I like to see it as an exercise work-out for my brain. The bottom line is that it is perfectly possible for anyone to learn French, regardless of their age. So what are you waiting for? Lancez-vous!

http://www.mylanguageexchange.com/

http://www.20minutes.fr/