Traveling to France: 9 Helpful Tips for Learning French Grammar Like a Native Speaker

Knowing the words to Frère Jacques is impressive. If you can sing them on-key—even better. You’ll be all set for entertaining at the maternelle. Hint: That’s French for nursery school!

If your use of French grammar is limited to Dormez-vous and Sonnez les matines, we have good news!

You can perfect your French conversation skills without singing about a monk who oversleeps. 

Read our tips for learning French. By the time your friends say bon voyage, you’ll sound like French is your first language.

1. Focus on Grammar

Why are we suggesting you pay attention to grammar in an article about, well, grammar?

In the early stages of learning a new language, learners often push grammar aside and focus on vocabulary. When you’re first learning a language the focus on learning new words is fun (and necessary). But It’s difficult to have a conversation based on words without structure.

The building blocks of language are vocabulary and grammar. Proper language skill development won’t happen without both.

Adding new vocabulary boosts your confidence. Mastering grammar leads to fluency.

2. Stop Translating

Translating in your head may help in the beginning but make it a habit.

It’s natural to filter words through your native language but not every French word is translatable. Also, French and English don’t share the same grammar concepts.

Think about the mental process of translation. You read or hear a sentence. You then attempt to match the words to the English equivalent.

French and English use different word order and verb tenses making internal translation a burden and unnecessary. If you’re in a social situation, by the time you finish your mental translation, everyone else has moved on to the next topic.

The best way to break the habit of translating is to immerse yourself in the language. You might also consider hiding your book.

3. Ditch the Textbook

Your high school French teacher might not agree but you don’t need the textbook.

To clarify, we’re not saying you should never read the textbook. Textbooks help you learn grammar and vocabulary. They also help you ace your French tests, but they won’t help you become fluent.

People who only study the textbook don’t do well in the natural environment of the language.

Unless the textbook comes with audio files, you’ll never hear the spoken language. Imagine your surprise when you realize not all French people speak the same dialect. The textbook won’t prepare you for that.

Textbook writers use standardized, or formal language. Your goal is talking with normal, everyday people using their words. Learn more here about French slang—the artful use of slang is a great way to fit into another culture and understand grammar.

Use the textbook as the foundation for speaking skills but leave it at home when you visit France.

4. Read the Dictionary

Come on, you know you were one of those kids who loved reading the dictionary. Now, you can enjoy reading the dictionary in French.

A French dictionary with an extensive grammar section is your go-to book for learning the language. Pack a pocket-sized dictionary in your backpack and you’ll have everything you need to look up vocabulary words and figure out how to use them in a sentence.

We don’t want you to stop with the dictionary. Read everything else you can get your hands on including French magazines and newspapers.

If you’re a newsfeed fanatic, consider turning off your normal online news source and instead follow what’s going on in the French-speaking world

5. Watch French Movies

We mentioned the word immerse earlier when we talked about breaking the habit of internal translation. Most of our tips hinge on total immersion, which includes reading books, magazines, and newspapers.

Immersion also includes hearing the language.

Can you imagine a better way to hear French than watching a French movie? Neither can we.

Listening to dialogue is essential to developing speaking skills. You pick up on Idiosyncrasies in speech. You hear the natural way people talk, often using incomplete thoughts and sentences.

Look for films or television shows that contain a lot of talking. A documentary might be interesting, but it won’t use much dialogue. Dialogue gives you exposure to real-world French.

While you watch, take notes, which helps with a few of our next tips for learning French.

6. Write in French

Up to now, we’ve talked about consuming information. Reading and hearing are all about taking in content already created for you. You’re on the receiving end.

Communication, however, is a two-way street. Creating your own material and sharing it with the world is the next step to fluency.

Writing helps you shape sentences. Writing is also another way you can express your thoughts and ideas. Voltaire was correct when he said, “Writing is the painting of the voice. “

A fun way to incorporate writing into your French study is to create your own phrase book. You can also keep a journal where you write about your day, write a Facebook status or Tweet, or write a letter to a friend.

7. Use Fun Language Learning Resources

Books and movies make excellent learning tools but make sure you broaden your horizons and use a variety of fun resources.

Write phrases on sticky notes and post them everywhere. Stick them on the fridge, the bathroom mirror, even on the steering wheel of your car. Sticky notes are great reminders for you to say the phrase out loud.

Create voice memos in French and set them as alarms on your phone. What a way to wake up!

Make flashcards and take them to work. Your co-workers will love testing you at lunch, right?

Whether you stick a note on it, wake up to it, or take it to work with you, make learning French fun. Remember to make sure the phrases are grammatically correct. Sorry, but we had to say that!

8. More Talking Less Thinking

Thank you for trying out our tips for learning French! But you can watch French movies all weekend on Netflix and never speak a word.

You can read, write, and think in French but if you never get out of your comfort zone and talk with a real person, you’ll never be much more than a student of the language.

Speaking out loud helps you learn how to form sounds and develop an authentic accent. Speaking also gives you plenty of opportunities to practice correct grammar.

Find another French speaker, preferably a native speaker and have conversations with them. They’ll be happy to correct your grammar.

Talk to yourself if you have no one else, but just do it!

9. Take a Class

It may seem awkward to put this tip at the end of an article on learning French grammar. Keep in mind, many people start learning a language through an app on their phone or online.

Some people do well learning a language on their own, and in fact, learn better in solitude. Others need face-to-face interaction.

If you find yourself hitting a wall in perfecting your French grammar skills sign up for a class. It doesn’t need to be a formal university course (although those are good). You can find French language courses that use Skye or other live technologies.

There’s no shame in taking a class and it’s a great opportunity to talk with an instructor and other students.

Don’t Forget to Use Your New Tips for Learning French

It’s true. Practice does make perfect especially when learning a foreign language. Try combining reading, listening, and speaking techniques for the best chance at success.

We’re certain if you practice using even one or two of these tips for learning French, you’ll blend in just fine when you travel to France.

Speaking of travel, we have a fantastic archive of travel-related articles. Check them out here. Bon voyage!

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