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When learning a new language, speaking is often cited as the skill that is the most difficult to improve. If you’re studying French, here are some ideas and methods for how you can get better at speaking French and consequently, feel more confident in your abilities.
1. Talk to Yourself in French
Yes, really! Have conversations with yourself in French… out loud. (Bonus points if you talk to your pets in French.) It may feel awkward at first, but you’ll feel less like a crazy person with practice 🤪 And it will definitely help your fluency when you’re having an exchange with a real person!
Try replaying conversations and interactions that you’ve already had in French and change up how you could have responded. Repeat and revise the situations and/or imagine completely different scenarios. Pretend you’re introducing yourself to someone or that you’re being interviewed for a job. You can also narrate out loud what you are doing while you are completing tasks around the house, like cleaning or cooking. Instead of memorizing lists of vocabulary, you’ll naturally discover new words that you can learn based on what comes up in everyday speech.
2. Turn On the French Subtitles
Watch French movies and TV shows with the French subtitles on. Written French does not look the way it sounds. Syncing up the letter formations with the corresponding pronunciation will help your comprehension of spoken French. It also helps you hear how native speakers actually talk in order to get a feel for the rhythm and pronunciation. As such, I do not recommend watching your favorite American TV shows in French. The translations are often a bit awkward and unnatural.
Music is another great input source. Just head to Youtube and listen to francophone music while reading the song lyrics. If you want to make this a game and test your listening skills, check out Lyrics Training. Fill in the blanks on popular French music while you listen and watch the music video.
3. Join a French Conversation Group
Practice speaking French regularly by joining a conversation group. You can find one through the Meetup app, a local university or library, or even Facebook.
A conversation group is a low-risk, comfortable setting with other language learners. Bring a notebook with you to jot down new vocabulary and phrases. Take special note of anything that you struggled to explain. Later on, when you’re talking to yourself again (lol), you can take the time to look up how to explain something more efficiently or find those precise vocabulary words that you were reaching for.
4. Develop the Skill of Circumlocution
Many people that we interact with know some English as it is a standard language for communication. Switching to English when you lack a vocabulary word or struggle to form a sentence will only do you a disservice when you’re learning a world language.
Undoubtedly, there will be times when you lack vocabulary or grammar. Do your best to work around it and resist the urge to switch to English! For example, if a sentence just isn’t coming out right, stop and rephrase it. Simplifying your idea and using shorter sentences is a good strategy. It may sound choppy, but you can still get your point across. Likewise, if you lack vocabulary, try describing the word. This is a technique called circumlocution. Both of these strategies are essential skills. They do get easier with time and working on them will help you to avoid getting blocked when speaking French.
Keep in mind that even advanced speakers use these approaches. Just consider what you do in your native language when a word doesn’t come to mind right away!
5. Concentrate on Communication
Your mindset can play a major role in how successful you are at speaking French. Remember that the goal in speaking a language is to communicate an idea effectively, not necessarily to say everything perfectly. It’s ok if it gets a little messy as long as you were still able to transmit meaning. The more you practice, the easier this gets! And as time goes on, if you keep at it, you’ll naturally become more accurate and fluent in your communication.
Have you tried any of these strategies to improve your French speaking skills? What’s worked for you?