The best way to learn French is to make an absolute commitment, at the outset, to achieve this goal. Sounds simplistic, maybe, but learning any language–including French–cannot be accomplished without dedication and persistence.
There are many reasons to learn French. It is the first language of nearly 80 million people. Besides that, there around 280 million more people who speak French as their second or third language. In addition to France itself, there are large numbers of native French speakers in Canada, Belgium and Switzerland. There are smaller communities of French speakers in numerous other countries, including the United States.
Learning French is an intellectually stimulating endeavor, as well as giving you a practical skill. Certainly, if you want to do business in a French speaking country, having the ability to converse with people in their native language will be a great advantage. But even if you are just headed to France, say, for a short vacation, knowing some (or a lot) of French will let you appreciate and enjoy the local culture so much more than you would without that knowledge.
Doing research to discover the best way to learn French for you will pay benefits, now and in the future. Learning French or any language can be as difficult–or as easy–as y0u make it. Fortunately, today we have so many options for learning and practicing a foreign language that even people who lived a few short decades ago would be astounded. Besides the proliferation of classes and independent study programs, there are the many multimedia courses that you can download and begin studying immediately, in the privacy and comfort of your own home.
Something to keep in mind: Many language learning methods are geared toward helping you memorize words, grammar, etc. But what’s important is to being able to retain this knowledge over the long term, and to be able to use it in real-world situations, face to face (or over the phone) with native speakers. If you want to enjoy true French proficiency, you must bring what you have memorized into your daily life.
You might have heard that French is a difficult language. This is not really true. And as an English speaker, you will actually have an advantage in learning it.
French uses the same 26-letter Latin alphabet that English does (albeit with some special diacritical marks). As a Romance language, it is based in Latin, but also with some Germanic language influence. In a way, this is the inverse of English, which is a Germanic language that has been strongly influenced by Latin–especially via Norman French!
So, really, English and French have a lot in common. The best way to learn French starts with recognizing this fact.
A good first step in your French learning odyssey is simply to listen to the spoken language without making too much of an effort to understand what you are hearing. This is important for getting a feel of the language’s unique rhythms. Today you can find innumerable videos that will let you do this. Also, many of the downloadable French courses have video and audio components that you can just listen to, letting the language flow around you.
From simply listening to French, you can move on to learning some vocabulary, then common greetings, and then more complex, structured sentences. Eventually you can step forward to reading and translating French written material, taking it one sentence at a time.
As you encounter words you don’t know, add them to a vocabulary list that you keep in a journal devoted to learning French. Such a journal should include pages on which you write paragraphs and eventually whole stories or essays in the new language. This type of work is demanding — and invaluable! The best way to learn French is a multi-pronged approach, after all.
If you are using an audio program, listen to it often during the day. Many smaller chunks of time are better than a few larger ones. Always, always: Go back to the sound of the language to really ground yourself in it.
A great idea for learning French is to watch movies in the language. French movies on DVD are easy to find, at the local video store, for sale online, or available for rent from a service such as Netflix. Alternate between watching movies that have English subtitles and movies without subtitles.
Now, here’s the hardest part of learning French for many of us, and yet it is the most important: Go out there and speak it! Find someone who speaks French and try to have a conversation with that person. Don’t just give up and lapse into English the moment you hit a stumbling block, although you will be tempted to do so. Persist! Keep going!
Most people appreciate others who attempt to speak their language, and chances are you can find such a person if you live in even a moderately large town, or near a university. Similarly, many college and university towns will have a French conversational group that meets regularly in a restaurant or coffee shop, and you don’t need to be a student or faculty member to join, usually. Just do some asking around.
Perhaps the best way to learn French fast in our modern world is to do it online. Just about anyone can learn to speak French through the use of today’s technologically sophisticated online and downloadable tools. Online and computer-based learning is convenient, fun and highly affordable. (Just look around this site and you will see links to the French courses and tools that we consider among the best.)
Yes, you can become a good–perhaps even fluent–French speaker in a surprisingly short amount of time. And yes, you will need to put in some work and practice. Most of all, you will need to commit yourself to achieving your learning goals. Commitment is the single most important part of the best way to learn French, in our opinion.