Learning French on a Fast Track

Before I set out to travel to the South of France, I decided to learn more about the area and learn more about communicating “un peu” in the native tongue by taking some French courses. Since I work full time, it was difficult to wedge in even three courses before my summer adventure to several destinations in France, within a two-month window of time. But I learned a few words, phrases and some pronunciation basics that at least helped me blurt out a few words in French during my travels. While metro cities in France have many shopkeepers and waiters who know some basic English, I’d heard that more rural areas in France (and other European countries in general) may not know any English beyond hello and thank you.

Since I’m in a travel phase in my life, I also was curious about where French is spoken and how easy it is to learn. In my research I found this handy world language source that answered these questions in an easy-to-use map format. This information confirmed what I’d thought—that French is one of the easiest languages to learn and is spoken many places around the globe. Based on my many travels, personal experience learning a new language in a condensed amount of time and some secondary research, I’ve compiled some tips on learning French and general foreign language basics on a fast track:

  • Practice

Practice learning your French in preferably all of these ways for the best results:

  • Read articles in French;
  • Speak French to someone who knows French; force yourself to have a conversation in French;
  • Join an international club with regular meetings and events:
  • Annoy your significant other or friends and family with phrases in French;
  • Rent French movies with subtitles for month one then month two rent movies without subtitles and try to figure out what they’re saying;
  • Rent a French opera (similar to above bullet);
  • Learn language basics and more on an app such as DuoLingo;
  • Hire a French tutor for a few sessions before your trip;
  • Write a short story in French and have the French tutor ‘grade’ your work.
  • Immersion

Of course the optimal environment for learning French or any language is immersion. In a perfect world you would learn a new language then hang out in the foreign land where you would be surrounded by all things French—from menus to road signs.

  • Cultural dining mores

As you are mastering French, do some research on cultural mores.Here are just a few examples—especially related to mealtime:

  • When dining you shouldn’t place your hands on your lap (as we’re taught in the US). Apparently the French want to know where your hands are during a meal so you should always keep your hands on the table;
  • Wait for the head of the table to say “bon “appetit” before eating your meal;
  • Eat with your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right hand;
  • If bread is served and there is no plate, it is acceptable to place it on the tablecloth;
  • Always wait for a toast before drinking and the host or head of the table usually initiates the toast.
  • A sample toast is “a votre santé.”

Allot a few hours in your schedule each week for working on your language skills. If you write it down in your planner or calendar with digital reminders it makes the tasks become more routine.

Speaking of digital reminders—set a reminder once a day on your phone where you take a break and review some vocabulary words and pronunciations and/or recite them to a sympathetic co-worker, if possible. But overall, practice is the key for becoming more comfortable with basic French, which can make your trip more fun and help better embrace the culture.

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