While I love France and love to travel there regularly, I don’t get there as often to maintain and enhance my language skills.
I had tried formal French classes before but didn’t find it very useful – the classes were too slow and not necessarily what I wanted to do. So, I built myself a personalised French language course. Here’s how I did it:
1. One-on-one lessons with a native speaker
This is the cornerstone of my personal language course. Almost every week I have a one hour lesson with my teacher, Angelique. We agreed at the start we would focus on conversational skills. We use my mistakes during conversation to guide occasional grammar studies. During our lessons we discuss every topic you could imagine: politics, childbirth, cultural differences, cooking, fashion and our families. I’ve actually learned the subjunctive properly and can now use it in conversation (although sometimes I do forget!).
2. French courses
I also have a French course book with CD. I listen to the CD in the car sometimes, and then read the dialogue in the book at home. I admit I don’t study it avidly though.
3. A good grammar book
I went to a bookshop and spent $25 on a grammar book. I use it to complement my lessons. If there are grammar points I want extra practice with (Angelique sets homework occasionally!), this is where I go. Angelique explains all the grammar in French, so I find it handy to have an English language grammar book to double check that I’ve understood it properly, and to do some extra practice.
4. French magazines
I sometimes buy French magazines, and armed with my trusty dictionary from high school, I make sure I read them cover to cover. I have increased my vocabulary tremendously doing this, as well as finding some great new shops to check out when I am in France!
5. French websites and the French news
There are many French language news websites designed for both native speakers and those of us who need things a bit slower. The French news, either on television or online is great for improving my comprehension. If it is a news story I’m familiar with I find I can understand it very well, as I know the background of what is being said. But even if I don’t know the story, I find the pictures very helpful in understanding the story.
My Results so Far
I spend no more than two hours a week on my French language skills, and often spend less.
In my lessons I have gone from Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) level 3 (B1) to level 4 (B2) since January this year.
I can understand the French news quite well now, but still have more work to do before I can understand everything.
I can now read a magazine without having to check words in my dictionary for comprehension. I don’t understand every word I read, but I understand everything that is written. When I look up a word it is to improve my vocabulary, not for comprehension.
My personal course works for me, but is by no means exhaustive. Other things you could try that I haven’t done include: joining a French conversation or cultural group, French movies (trying to ignore the subtitles) or visiting Francophone countries closer to where you live – in Australia New Caledonia is the obvious choice. In North America, think Quebec or the French speaking Caribbean islands. If you live the UK, you just need to make the effort and go!
All images are credited to Jo Karnaghan