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What I have learned about learning French throughout my university career

By: tutor Sundy L profile picture Sundy L., French, Geography and ESL Tutor, Bachelor of Education (Concurrent) at Queen’s University

There’s no denying that learning a new, foreign language is tough and frustrating at times. In Ontario, Canada, learning French is mandatory for all students from grades 4-8, in addition to having at least one FSL credit in high school to qualify for graduation. Throughout the years, here are 3 things that I have learned that have greatly helped me in learning French and these tips are helpful for any French learner, wishing to succeed.

1. Oral communication is key

From personal experience, one of the major reasons why learning and retaining French is hard for many students in Ontario is due to the grammar focused learning approach.

Things may have changed since then, but when I was in high school, many of my French lessons were centred around grammar and reading with little room for oral conversation. This made it difficult to converse freely, as students, including myself, would automatically convert back to speaking English after speaking French for that little bit of time.

It was not until the end of my first year at university when I went on an exchange program to Quebec, that I truly understood the importance of oral communication. Immersing myself in an environment where I was forced to speak the language allowed me to naturally learn with ease as I got to practice what I’ve learned on a daily basis with local speakers. I would highly recommend any French learners to go on an exchange to a francophone community or find opportunities to converse with native speakers as this helps improve one’s ability to retain the language.

2. Keeping a vocabulary/grammar list in a visible place

Having a list of unfamiliar words, phrases or grammar structures in a place that can serve as a constant reminder is a fantastic way to retain and build on that learned knowledge and not forget it.

Throughout all my French courses in university, one thing that really helped me was to make small vocabulary and grammar lists on the sticky notes app on my computer. Whenever I came across an unknown word, phrase, or grammar structure, I would jot it down and every time I opened my laptop, I would see the brightly coloured notes, and that would encourage me to re-read what I wrote. This is a helpful trick when learning any language, and it’s the same for French as repetition would help the brain remember the language for a much longer period of time.

3. Have fun and enjoy what you’re learning

This is a very important point to keep in mind. It was not until I fully understood and embraced this point that my French skills actually started to improve.

Back in high school, I always associated learning French with school, something that I had to do in order to get a good grade or in order to have a better future. This could’ve been why I struggled a lot, and there were instances where I wanted to give up because it was so difficult as I thought learning French was a chore and I did not enjoy it at all.

However, in my grade 12 French class, we read Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and that was the first time I truly enjoyed reading French and found it fascinating. Throughout my university years, I continued to increase my exposure to French things that interested me such as French songs, movies, French Instagram accounts and French YouTube channels. I realized that when I enjoyed learning French and wasn’t as stressed about the outcome, something clicked in my brain and things were a lot easier. I was able to read, write, and speak more naturally as I was absorbing all this information and I wasn’t hating it.

This is my biggest piece of advice for new learners, although it’s hard in the beginning, try to find some meaning in what you’re learning and enjoy the process of it and you’ll find that things will become easier and more fun.

Learning a language is a rollercoaster, and although it’s bumpy at times, as long as you don’t give up and find some joy in the learning, things will get better and it’ll be worth it.