Advice for struggling French language students – 1

Many people learned some French in High school, college, or even through an adult education class. But how can you continue to learn French once the structured grammar classes have been completed? How can you learn conversational French? How can you become fluent?

Recently, My French Life™ posed this question to a number of professionals who teach the French language and culture to adults.

Camille Chevalier-Karfis PROFILE for My French Life - Ma Vie Française

Camille Chevalier-Karfis of provides her advice to our members and readers.

Camille says, “Today, I’ll tell you what I think of the different learning methods, how to pick the best one for you, and how to avoid scams.”

1 – Group classes

Pros: Not too expensive.
Cons: Not enough personal attention, curriculum not adapted to your real needs.

If you are an advanced student looking for a conversation class; group classes can be a great option. If you are ‘good’ with languages, and know how grammar works, you can also do well in a group. Otherwise, in my experience, group classes are a waste of time and money. Why? They won’t adapt to your needs, whether you are getting your needs fulfilled or not.

From a teacher’s/school point of view, group classes are a ‘juicy’ business. You can easily make over US $100 per hour… Always keep that in mind when joining a class… Here are some tips on what to look out for:

  • The number of students. The more students, the less individual attention. Make sure you always know the maximum number of students allowed before joining a class. 4 is optimal. 6 is OK. 10 is way too many.
  • Holidays. You usually pay a group class for X number of weeks. If your class day falls on a holiday, you won’t have class, but you’ll still have paid for it. This is particularly important if you join a group class in France, where there are so many holidays!!
  • Teachers. Some unscrupulous schools will hire anyone… Do check the accent of your teacher before signing up for a class.
  • The so-called placement test. Who interprets your level? Somehow, the results of the test often end up placing you in the class the director needs to fill…
  • Group level. If you end up in a group with various levels, it’s going to be quite impossible to have a coherent group class. If you are between levels, pick the easiest one: it’s beneficial to review something you already learned, but on the other hand, it’s dangerous to skip levels and create gaps in your instruction.

If you cannot afford private instruction, then look into joining a group class, but you will need to consider taking a couple of private lessons here and there to make sure you do understand everything the class has covered, and to address your own weaknesses.

Camille Chevalier-Karfis GROUP CLASS 1 for My French Life - Ma Vie Française

2 – Private tutors, one on one class, phone classes

Pros: curriculum totally adapted to your needs and learning abilities
Cons: price, danger of bad tutors

I give private French classes, so I can tell you from experience. There are a lot of people out there that claim they can give French lessons, but cannot. You really have to check references and see for yourself before you commit to a large number of classes. A tutor needs to be organized, punctual and reliable, have a good French accent, know grammar, know how to explain it, and be good at making people talk.

Unfortunately, a lot of tutors out there are not good at these things. And degrees in French really cannot guarantee that this person will have the necessary personal skills… Be particularly careful about young French people offering ‘conversation lessons’. Often, they have no teaching experience whatsoever: they might be able to engage you in conversations, and point out your mistakes, but they won’t be able to explain why it is a mistake… And that is primordial if you want to progress.

At least, if you decide to go with this kind of tutors, make sure the price they charge is commensurate with their teaching abilities. A good tutor should be able to tailor a program specially adapted to your strengths and weaknesses, and help you make the most of your time with him/her.

You’re good with grammar? Then you can study most of it by yourself, and concentrate on practice and pronunciation during the lessons. You are too shy to speak? Your tutor has to reinforce natural everyday chats. Giving you a newspaper article to comment on is not going to help much in real life…

If you cannot find a good tutor in your area, don’t overlook phone lessons. I know it sounds intimidating, but phone lessons are very convenient, and my students who might have been reluctant at the beginning now love them.

Camille Chevalier-Karfis ON PHONE for My French Life - Ma Vie Française

See Episode 2 of this series ‘Advice for struggling French language students’, here. In the next episode, Camille will give advice on self-teaching methods and immersion programs, and explain what she would do if she were a French language student.

Thank you Camille for providing expert advice to My French Life™ members and readers.

All Images © Camille

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Laura Griffin

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