Guide to Learn French on Your Own

Learning any topic on your own takes a certain amount of discipline, and learning French on your own is no different. In addition to the discipline it takes, it helps to remember the motivating factors for this decision and to be aware of your own learning style.

7 Steps to Learn French on Your Own

Since this will be your own endeavor, on your own time and your own terms, you may as well tailor your lessons to yourself. This means that if you remember things best by reviewing them right before going to sleep, then make sure you have your materials on your bedside table. Or if you learn best at the crack of dawn, set your alarm accordingly. There is a Sanskrit word for a time in the morning when the mind is clear and you can reach peak powers of concentration, called brahma muhurta (ब्रह्म-मुहूर्त). This is traditionally one and a half hours before sunrise. Finding an analogous time of your day to focus on French is an ideal way to go about learning the language.

1- Why You Are Learning French

Before even picking up a book, computer, or any other device, establish why you are learning French in the first place. Are you planning on working or traveling in a French-speaking country? Are you interested in some of the cultural contributions made in French-speaking regions of the world? Being aware of these motivating factors will not only give you the energy to take on heavy doses of linguistic and cultural knowledge, but it will also direct you toward sources that will be the most effective for you.

2- What Kind of Learner Are You?

This leads to the next question that is useful to answer when studying a new language, which is what kind of learner are you? Are you very good with systems, patterns, and puzzles? Do you have a photographic memory? Are you an audio or a visual learner? Knowing what type of learner you are will point to methods that are the most effective for you. It will also help to sort out your strong and weak points, so that you can make the most of the former and put effort into strengthening the latter. When I was younger, I had to study long vocabulary lists and was supposed to memorize the meanings of different words in English. I was an avid reader, had studied different languages, including Latin, and had even won spelling bees, but I could not for the life of me remember the definitions of words on a list out of context. This was the type of information that could have guided me toward programs of study that focused on complete sentences and structural patterns in language rather than the memorization of definitions of words on a list, from a particular dictionary.

3- Specify Which Aspects of the Language You Would Like to Focus On

Specify which aspects of the language you would like to focus on. If you would like to cover many things, that’s fine, but specify that you would like to cover them all so that you can develop a way to approach each component of your program of study. For speaking portions, make sure you have a good audio program and other features that will enhance your pronunciation and fluency.  Software that can record you or even analyze your accent is helpful. And it might be nice to use software that allows you to listen to recordings at different speeds. Ultimately, you’ll want to understand different types of French speakers, so you can gradually incorporate people from different regions of the francophone world into your program.

4- Make Sure You Have Materials that Interest You

Reading and writing also come with practice, so make sure you have texts that interest you, reference materials that will assist with basic language structures, and either a program that allows you to submit responses to questions, using complete sentences, or a workbook that asks questions targeted at a specific text. If there is no one to check that your sentences are structured in a coherent manner, you can do a search on your computer for sources that include the phrases you have written or analogous ones, e.g., constituents of phrases that are interchangeable with those you have written, such as “Le matin je ne prenais qu’un bol de chocolat” for which you could substitute “Ce samedi elle n’avait guère de soucis”, as they both include a time unit, a subject pronoun, an adverbial negation, and an object. Make sure your sources are reliable, though. Usually a government source is quite reliable, as are educational institutions, such as the Alliance Française or the University of Paris. Comments on an article covering the latest political scandal submitted by loozair343 may not be so reliable.

5- Establishing a Routine

Establishing a routine is very important, as it will put you in the habit of studying regularly. If studying is irregular, then it will be more of an effort to switch gears into French mode. Daily practice is ideal, although understandably not always possible. Try not to space out your sessions too much, though, as you might face the issue of having to review everything from the previous session if you wait too long between study sessions. After my own consistent practice writing Chinese characters every morning, for example, I noticed that they were a lot more regular in size (instead of a twelve-stroke character being twice the size of a three-stroke character) and also that I was already going over certain characters in my head as I was waking up.

6- Measuring Your Own Progress

Measuring your own progress is difficult, but I would say that examinations and quizzes are also artificial measures of progress in many ways. The benefit of these types of assessments is that they do get you to put great amounts of effort into things that seem tricky, such as conjugations, genders, and relative clauses.

7- Being in a Francophone Context All Day Every Day

What arguably takes even more effort is being in a francophone context all day every day and navigating a French-speaking world with no break. This can initially be exhausting, since you are not only trying to produce correct and coherent phrases, using different sounds from what your vocal cavity is used to, but also listening very carefully to each nuance of what your interlocutors are saying, which many people do not do, even in the languages they already know. They actually do too little of it, in my opinion, and if you are studying French on your own and continually training yourself to listen and observe carefully, this is a wonderful opportunity to develop these habits, which can carry over into all of the languages you work with. If you have the opportunity to study French on your own while being immersed in a francophone environment, this is indeed an ideal combination!


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