When I used to teach in various traditional French schools and centres, I noticed some problems and inconsistencies which made me increasingly frustrated (that’s actually how I became independent and created French Your way and my two podcasts!). I observed, listened and tried to address these issues so I could make the whole experience of learning French more relevant and meaningful:
- What wasn’t being done in bigger schools that should be?
- What did students complain about?
So, here are my 5 core beliefs about language learning (not just French!)
1. Confidence is key
I met Robbie for the first time at a café where we had arranged to meet for a French trial. I was immediately struck to see that everything in her was literally shaking: her hands, her voice. Robbie was terrified to speak French in front of me after so many years of having put French lessons aside. She had yet been dreaming of resuming lessons for a while…always postponing the idea.
My tip for you: trust yourself and try! I know it is unsettling to expose yourself, you feel very self-conscious about being slow, making mistakes, etc. Keep in mind that we all have to start somewhere, and that you are probably your worse and only judge! Chances are that people around you will appreciate your efforts and be more patient and understanding than you would have thought 🙂
2. Make mistakes
Dear reader, I finally cracked THE secret for not making a single mistake in French!!
… QUIT studying! Do NOT speak and do not to write any more French!
Otherwise, simply understand and accept that mistakes are a normal and unavoidable part of the learning process. In fact, the process of trial and error already applies to all areas of your life, from the most futile to the most essential:
- experimenting a new cooking recipe (and I have had TONS of fails in that domain, but I kind of think of them as funny! My most epic fail was a chocolate risotto with green beans that neither my husband nor myself could finish…);
- finding the right life partner;
- taking risk with business-related decisions, etc
Back to classroom situation: I found this great article that should finish to convince you that mistakes are useful: “Teaching Students to Embrace Mistakes”.
Extract: “Ten thousand is the number of hours it takes to become an expert in almost any field. While it’s wonderful that people are starting to understand how work leads to expertise, the most important part of that research is not how much practice someone needs to perform, but what kind of practice. This latter category is called deliberate practice and involves isolating what’s not working and mastering the difficult area before moving on.[…] Mistakes are the most important thing that happens in any classroom, because they tell you where to focus that deliberate practice.”
My tip for you: take every mistake as an opportunity to assess/identify the points you need to work on.
3. Understand the power of Grammar
I know how much some of you are allergic to the “G” word, but please bear with me!
I’m a big believer in the power of grammar and dedicated an article to it; please check it out here!
I think it is important to get a (somewhat) slow start but have solid grammar bases to build on rather than wanting to learn faster and make plenty of mistakes that have become such a habit that they will be very difficult to fix/change at a later stage of learning French.
My tip for you: the main objective of learning a language is communication. Try to get your message across and use your teacher’s feedback to see how you can improve it with better use of grammar. A good teacher should know how to select/filter and point the mistakes that are the most relevant for your level, without it feeling discouraging for you.
4. Combine different ways of learning
There isn’t just ONE way of learning French. Instead, I encourage you to combine different ways of learning to create the most relevant experience according to what your objectives are. That’s why I created French Your Way; the name comes from my belief that learning needs to be tailored to each of you. That to me is smart learning!
Maree doesn’t know any French, but will be travelling to Paris for her upcoming holiday. Writing is not a priority.
- Maree may want to enrol in a Travel French course.
2. She will need to develop basic oral skills. She could use a Travel phrasebook or CD to learn a handful of useful sentences and brush them by herself too.
3. As for reading, she could learn to understand/recognize some important written signs and instructions (Reception/information desk, emergency exit, etc) → surfing on French websites for hotel/ train/museum etc can help her make her way just with the use of keywords.
Paul has become quite proficient in French; his level is upper-intermediate/advanced. The combination of the following learning situations should help him reinforce and improve his French in all skills dramatically:
- Strengthening oral comprehension skills (the most difficult skill to master) →Paul can listen to French Voices Podcast, to the news, watch French movies, etc.
Read my article “How to improve your French listening skills” (or listen to the podcast version here)
- Reading (French novels, web articles) in French will help with passive absorption and reinforcement of grammar structures. It will also add to his vocabulary.
Also check out my recommended reading list (you can sort by level, genre, etc.)
- A weekly session with a private French teacher will give him the opportunity to practice speaking as well as to identify what still needs reinforcement.
- Writing essays, poems etc. will allow Paul to master good writing techniques. It will also force him to implement/display his knowledge of the language: use a wide range of vocabulary, pay attention to the structure of sentences, etc. He can have his texts corrected by the teacher, which is an excellent way to assess his strengths and weaknesses too.
Also check out my Essay Proofreading Checklist!
My tip for you: work out what your objectives are and which skills are relevant/a priority for you: reading, writing, speaking, listening? Design your own learning experience to meet your objectives!
5. Building a strong teacher/student relationship
It’s important to feel comfortable with your teacher or tutor’s teaching style AND personality. Having a good relationship makes learning easier (as well as more pleasant) because your teacher will get to know you and to understand how you learn.
Learning is team work:
- Your teacher’s job is to make learning French an enriching experience;
- Your job as a student is to be curious, open and not afraid of making mistakes.
I will finish with Robbie’s story (mentioned at the beginning of this article): After Robbie took a huge leap in putting her self-consciousness aside, we brushed on her French together, week after week. We soon developed a great relationship, based on mutual respect. We became friends and Robbie was an important guest at our wedding a few years later!
Do you have anything to add or share? Feel free to do so in the comment section below!
For more reading, check out my article “What type of teacher do you have?”