Learning a language is fun – until it isn’t.
I don’t mean that in a “This became really boring” way, more like “I have to get up in front of people to speak and I’m not fluent!”. It’s a really nerve-recking situation when you’re anticipating all the things that could happen. You could forget certain words, or maybe your pronunciation is off and you end up saying something completely different. True story: I said baiser instead of baisser during a presentation in French and it was awful. But I lived.
This was back in 2011 when I was lucky to spend an entire year in Toulouse, France working on my degree. Stumbling over my words and all, somehow I managed to get myself to school, pay my electric bill, set up a bank account…the fun, administrative things that in your native language are super easy to do. Full immersion was definitely the quickest way to take the plunge, but not everyone has the opportunity to do that. So, what can you do short of moving to a country that speaks the language you’re trying to learn? To help you get started, I’m going to share some activities that can help you feel comfortable speaking and practicing your French.
Sing it out loud!
For me this was a no-brainer because I enjoy singing and used to sing in a youth choir growing up. You don’t need to have singing chops to do this, the focus here is on the technique: you’re trying to articulate and sound just right in harmony, so there’s constant repetition of words and phrases while you’re working through tricky pronunciation. Even if you just sing to yourself in the shower or during your commute in the car, having a playlist of songs in French that you can sing along to on your own helps. When you repeat the same words over and over again, you’re creating a pattern of recognition that helps your brain and your mouth synchronize. A good variety of songs like the mix in the AF de San Antonio: Une Vie Francophile Playlist, includes songs at different speeds and proper vs. slang words to train your ear. Plus, they’re fun tunes to play in the background anyway!
Stack fun activities
We focus so much on the outcome of “I want to speak French perfectly” and visualize the result of what that would look like. There’s just one problem: we don’t focus enough on the triggers along the way that help us make progress. This has a lot to do with personal motivation, and it’s different for everyone. I would argue, though, that universally we are all drawn to the things that make us feel good and that promise “fun”. So if we reframe the outcome to imagine “I want to have fun while speaking in French” what does that look like for you? For me, it’s a relaxed environment where I can drink some wine, eat some snacks, maybe share something like a charcuterie board. Nothing fancy, just being in the moment with a group of friends. I’ve found a good way to combine the two by attending the local French Meetup at La Madeleine on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month. I get something to eat – a coffee and a French pastry for example – and enjoy about an hour of conversation with other French speakers. Not knowing which topics will come up in these kind of gatherings is part of the fun: you easily pick up new words, and if you can’t remember how to say something, other people in the group will pitch in or ask if you can describe the idea.
Other strategies to try
The important thing is to put yourself in a comfortable situation, and to create a system that makes you feel confident to speak up. Small steps so you can test out what feels good and what doesn’t without stressing out. While group conversation and music have helped me out tremendously, here’s a more comprehensive and visual source you can reference in the future to test other activities:
Of course, if formal instruction and check-ins with a teacher help you feel more at ease and confident, consider enrolling in a 10 week course through L’Alliance Française de San Antonio. Classes for this current session are underway, but we’ll be opening enrollment for January 2020 very soon!