If you ask a lot of people who are already fluent in French how they did it, you will often receive the same response: move abroad! But what if you can’t yet travel or move to a French-speaking country? Or what if you have zero French skills whatsoever? How can you get fluent in French, asap?
That’s why I am here to help!
I studied French (and Italian) at the University of Cambridge and I am now fluent in French. I have successfully lived abroad in Paris and Rome. I know the struggles of learning and mastering a foreign language, both at home and abroad. I also know the struggles that come with moving abroad, and why you may not be ready for that just yet!
Though admittedly taking yourself to France or another Francophone country is hands down the best experience for learning French, there are many ways that you can develop and hone your French skills right now, without having to even leave your house!
One of your first thoughts on the French-learning journey may be: How long does it take to become fluent in French?
Well, it is estimated that an average English speaker will need around 600 hours to become fluent in French. This translates to two hours a day if you want to be fluent within one year.
This will be less if you already know some French, or are proficient in other Romance languages, such as Italian or Spanish, which have developed from Latin.
Don’t be worried if this seems like a lot of work! Learning French is also great fun, and methods can include anything from watching Netflix to speaking to Francophone friends. And that’s why I’m here to provide a host of solutions to perfecting your français from the comfort of your home city or living room.
Here’s a nine-step guide on how you can be fluent in French – in just a year.
Step 1: Define your goal
It is scientifically proven that setting a goal in any task will increase one’s achievement. Knowing where you want to go will give you the extra drive and determination needed to reach your aim.
But, in the case of becoming fluent, defining your goal is even more important than this. That is because, in fact, there is no set definition of the term fluent, and it can mean different things for different people.
Some may say that fluency is simply being able to get by in another language. Others have a stricter definition, arguing that it also requires near-perfect grammar and pronunciation. Before you begin, you will need to establish what being fluent means for you.
When I began learning French, I thought that it would be possible to become as proficient as a native French speaker. This was very naïve.
Over time, my goals changed, and I personally called myself fluent in French when I could converse with French-speaking people with ease. This doesn’t mean that I still don’t have an accent or that I don’t make occasional mistakes. For me, it is all about communication!
Your defined goal may also include what skills you would like to improve in particular. (You may be aware that language skills are broken down into four pillars: reading, writing, speaking, listening.)
Maybe you want to be able to work a French-speaking job. Or maybe you just want to be able to communicate on holiday. Whatever your definition, be sure to set a goal so that you know what you’re working towards, and can succeed at it!
Step 2: Set some milestones
If we are sticking with the assumption that you are an English speaker and know zero French right now, 600 hours of practice may seem overwhelming and confusing.
Therefore, it may be useful for you to set some milestones along the way! A lot can change in a year: you will need pre-agreed checkpoints along the way to track your progress and review how you are doing.
For example, you may want to say that within three months you aim to hold a simple conversation. Maybe after six months, you want to be able to watch a whole Netflix episode with subtitles. These milestones will be personal to you and hopefully drive your ambition.
Your milestones will also depend on how much learning or practice you would like to do per day or per week.
If you can’t commit to two hours a day right now, start with a less ambitious deadline, and perhaps increase the workload later on, when you feel more comfortable.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t meet these deadlines in the grand scheme of things. But they’ll keep you grounded and focused on your aims!
Step 3: Choose your study methods
There are a huge number of study methods that you can use on your journey to becoming fluent. Different people will find different methods more useful, depending on their working styles and goals.
The best approach will include a variety of French learning resources that will tackle different skills and keep you entertained and motivated along the way.
Learn French with apps
The fastest way to get started is to use an app to learn French. These apps are usually engaging, fun, and based on special methods for memory retention.
Duolingo’s probably the most popular app to learn French, but don’t let its popularity decide for you. Babbel, Mondly and Busuu and fantastic as well. There are even more options for French learning apps; check out the full list here.
Learn French with books
To build a solid foundation for French grammar and vocabulary, French textbooks will help. Be sure to find one that’s catered to your level; a beginner shouldn’t struggle unnecessarily with a book that’s completely in French!
Learn French with podcasts and audio courses
If you aim to improve your listening abilities then you could try French Today! This website offers a great audiobook method for learning French.
Learn French with a tutor
Speaking of tutors, they aren’t just great for conversation classes. A tutor can deliver personalized lessons, target your weak spots, and keep you motivated throughout your French learning journey! Best of all, you can easily hire French tutors online these days.
Get fluent in French with a mix of resources
Overall, the trick is to try out different resources and pick out those that you enjoy the most. A combination of resources will get you fluent in French in a well-rounded way.
Sure, you can stick with the famous Rosetta Stone to get you to intermediate level, but you’ll be missing out on all the fun!
Step 4: Integrate French learning into your hobbies
Obviously, you’re going to spend more time learning French if you enjoy it. And, after all, more time learning will get you fluent in French faster.
A great way to ensure you come back for more French learning each day is to integrate it into things that you already enjoy. This will depend on what you like, so tailor it for yourself.
Some people don’t mind trawling through grammar books. Others don’t, and that’s okay!
For example, watching French TV shows and movies is a great way to learn. You may not be able to access a lot of French TV channels outside of France, but Netflix and other streaming services have a variety of French-speaking shows that you can watch.
Personal favorites of mine include ‘Lupin’ (the most-watched non-English series on Netflix) and ‘Au service de la France’. Alternatively, FluentU has a variety of video content in French.
The good thing about watching TV series or films is that you can often add subtitles. Start with French audio and English subtitles. When you feel confident with this, you can maybe progress to French subtitles. The final step to fluency will be no subtitles at all!
Alternatively, if you’re into podcasts, there are a variety of Francophone podcasts available. Try some of these!
If reading is more your thing, then why not read in French? This doesn’t have to be lengthy 19th-century novels either. France is well known for its interesting contemporary literature and philosophy. If novels aren’t your thing, then you might enjoy reading online blogs, or even the news (try Le Monde for example).
French music is also a great way to improve your language skills whilst having fun or relaxing. Since French law states that 40% of music on the radio must be in French, the country has a strong music tradition. Belgium also produces some amazing musical content for its size, from Angèle to Stromae and Damso.
You could listen to the French songs chart on Spotify or other streaming services. Alternatively, do some searching for French music more to your taste.
Whether rock, country or pop, France will have its share of excellent music. Contemporary French music is often very focused on rap and hip-hop, giving your ears a workout as they try and decipher those quick rhymes.
Step 5: Establish a learning routine
Establishing a routine can be a great way to ensure that you put in the needed practice to become fluent.
The amount of consistent time spent learning and practicing French will determine your fluency over a long-term period. And, once your language learning becomes habit, you will be well on your way to fluency.
You may want to set aside a specific hour or two each day to work on your French. Perhaps an hour after work, or an hour on the train to school. If your schedule is busier during the week than the weekends, you could designate the weekend as your bulk practice time. It doesn’t matter so long as it works for you, and you are making progress!
But, this doesn’t have to be a rigorous and inflexible schedule, if that’s not your style. Personally, I love to hop on Duolingo or Memrise apps when I happen to have a free moment on the train, or before bed. As long as you consistently practice each day or week, your French will progress!
Also, don’t worry if you sometimes miss your goal or aspects of your routine. Your fluency will not depend on meeting your goal and schedule every day, but rather the grand scheme of things. We are all human after all.
Step 6: Talk, talk, talk!
One of the reasons moving abroad works so well for language learning is not just the constant exposure, but the interaction that comes with other humans. Learning French so that you can speak to friends is a lot more exciting than trawling through grammar books.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to talk with Francophone people without moving abroad.
Both in France and the UK, I have found language exchanges to be very rewarding. The concept is that you meet a French speaker who wants to work on their English and you exchange your language skills.
You could meet in a café or a bar for an hour, with 30 minutes dedicated to speaking French and 30 minutes to speaking English. That way, both of you can improve, and you may well find a new friend.
There are many language exchanges advertised online, or also Facebook groups in many local areas. These groups may be called ‘language exchange’ or ‘language tandem’.
Alternatively, you could pay for a French tutor online. There are a variety of tutoring services out there, ranging in budget and style. As mentioned, italki and Preply are on the cheaper side of the tutoring scale. You may also land great French teachers on Wyzant and Live Lingua.
Though talking in French may seem daunting at first, it’ll get better with the more practice you do. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; This is how you learn, and the quickest way to success. Everyone who has become fluent in a language has gone through this stage, and you can too!
Step 7: See French and think French!
This step is completely optional but you can try it out.
I think that one of the best ways to learn a language is to make it unavoidable. When you have to understand something to survive, you will learn a lot quicker.
A great method that I found was to change the language of my phone (or computer! Or TV!) to French. Every time I used my phone, I would have to read a little bit of French. It is also great for learning and memorizing technology vocab, without the need for flash cards or vocab books.
This method of immersing yourself as much as possible in the language is the best way to learn, and can be applied to anything. Perhaps read product labels or recipes in French, where available. Or maybe you could pin post-its of vocab all around your house.
Once you’re comfortable in French, you can try to start thinking in a foreign language. Begin by consciously translating your spoken words to French – at least in your head. This helps enforce your vocabulary. Then try translating your thoughts in French, and when you’re ready, start thinking in French. It requires serious skill, but it’s achievable.
Step 8: Keep it fresh
Like any activity or practice, you need to keep your language learning fresh! You don’t want to slip out of routine simply because you’re bored of the same old grammar exercises or vocab lists.
Have you been listening to the same French podcast every day for the past month? Find a new one!
Do you only engage in small talk with your language partner? Talk about the news or current affairs!
At the same time, continue to be consistent in your vocabulary learning, whatever the method! You will rarely retain vocab by looking at it once, and you will need to look at vocab over and over again until it really sticks – and again, this is where apps are helpful!
Step 9: Measure your progress
It is important while doing all this to measure your progress. This way you can dedicate more time to various skills and activities depending on how they’re going.
Make sure to refer back to the goals and deadlines you already made, and review how they’re going.
If you realize that your grammar is your weakest skill, open up those grammar books. If you think your grasp of grammar is strong, but you struggle to understand French spoken out loud, you may want to begin watching a French-speaking series on Netflix.
Bonus: Travel to a Francophone country
And eventually, if your financial situation and current life allows it, then take the plunge and travel abroad!
Though this could simply be a holiday to Paris or Marseille, I would recommend staying at least a couple of months to really work on those French skills. This truly is the crème de la crème of language learning.
The amazing thing about moving abroad is the immersion in the French language. You have little choice but to be surrounded by French on a day-to-day basis. You can also live the culture of this new environment, the reason that makes language learning so amazing and rewarding!
If it isn’t possible for you to stay for an extended period of time, try a language course abroad. These often take place over a week or two. Intense language classes will take place in the morning with native speakers, giving you the afternoon to explore your city’s life and culture, and also get conversing with the locals!
So, there are my tips and tricks on how to become fluent in French in one year! Hopefully, you find them useful. Let us know how your studying goes and bonne chance (good luck)!