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Lauren Harsh

La Première Leçon: What to Expect at Your First French Lesson

Every tutor does things a little differently, but this guide will help you prepare for a successful tutoring experience.

Whether you’re learning French on your own or taking in-person or online French classes, French tutoring can help you learn in a way that is tailored to your needs. It may even be the best way to learn French for you.

If you’ve never worked with a tutor before, it can be hard to know what to expect at your first French lesson. Every tutor does things a little differently, but this guide will help you prepare for a successful tutoring experience.

What is a French Lesson?

A lesson with a French tutor will look different from a French class with multiple people. If your lesson is in person, you have the option to meet at your home, their home, or a public place.

Most learners choose online French lessons using the Wyzant online learning tool.

Whatever kind of lesson works for you, each one will focus on your needs as a learner and be shaped by how you learn best. Your answers to a tutor’s questions will help them develop the perfect French lesson plan for your exact, unique goals.

Hiring a French Tutor

Finding a tutor isn’t hard! Before you book a tutor, visit their profile, read their bio and reviews to get an idea of their specialties, experience level, and what other clients mention about their own lessons. Some tutors are even French teachers looking to make some extra money.

Working with a tutor is more affordable than you may think. French tutors’ rates vary depending on their education level and other factors, but it is completely possible to find an expert tutor on any budget.

Scheduling Your First French Lesson

Try to have your lessons at a time of day when you are energized and ready to work! Learning a language from step one is an exciting and involved process, and you’ll want to begin your French journey on the right foot. Though scheduling lessons right after work or school may seem convenient, it may be harder to learn if you show up tired, hungry, or just not in the mood. Most people have their sessions once a week, but you can certainly meet with your French tutor more often if you want.

Assessment of Your French Skill Level and Goals

Your tutor will begin by asking you what your current French language skill level is, and what your goals for learning the language are. Think about your answers and motivations ahead of time so you can tell them helpful information.

Know Your Current Skill Level

Describing your skill level as beginner, intermediate, or advanced is a great place to start. Then tell your tutor any other relevant information, such as how many months or years you’ve been studying French, whether or not you’ve taken classes or worked with a tutor before, and if you’re using any language-learning apps, books, or other resources on your own.

Set Specific Goals

Get your learning on the right track by setting attainable and specific goals. For some people, the first goal they think of is “I want to be fluent.” Though that’s a great level of enthusiasm, it doesn’t tell your tutor anything useful. Your goals should be specific, attainable, and measurable.

Some examples of specific French-related goals include going on a trip, communicating with French-speaking colleagues and clients, reading a certain French book, and being able to enjoy watching French-language films without subtitles.

What to Bring to Your First French Lesson

Your tutor probably won’t ask you to buy any textbooks or other materials right away before you’ve committed to partnering with them as their student. If your tutoring is supplementing a French class, bring your textbook, syllabus, and notes from the class. For any lesson, it’s always a good idea to bring a notebook and writing utensil (or use a document on your computer to keep running notes of your lesson progression). Your tutor may have their own recommendations later on for books and French study guides. Make sure to ask!

Topics

If you’re starting off French tutoring as a beginner, the topics you cover will probably be basic, essential parts of communicating in French.

Phrases for Beginners

Greetings and common phrases that you need to get by in a French-speaking country are the most common starting point for vocabulary and conversation. You can learn these phrases anywhere, but a tutor can help you focus your vocabulary learning on topics that are relevant to you. Later on, you’ll learn fun expressions.

Grammar

Learning French grammar structures early on is crucially important for communicating more complex thoughts and forming sentences on your own. French has more verb conjugation patterns than English does; its syntax is different; and it has “fun” concepts like grammatical gender. It doesn’t have to be hard, though!

Personalized tutoring allows you to spend more time on concepts that you uniquely struggle with, and less time on concepts that are easy for you. If you need more explanation on certain French grammar concepts, make sure to tell your tutor so they can build in lesson material that resonates with you.

For some help right now, read Wyzant’s in-depth articles on past, present, and future French tenses.

Pronunciation

Learning new words and how to put them together does not mean you are done learning how to speak French. It is also important not to put off working on pronunciation.

Pronouncing French words properly can be intimidating for English speakers, but the rules are more consistent when you take time to learn them effectively. You’ll have to practice until you get it right, so do not give up if it’s difficult at first.

What to Work on Between Sessions

Spend time working on French outside of your tutoring sessions. Your tutor will give you recommendations for listening, reading, and incorporating French into your everyday life. As with most things, learning a language is a process, and one that requires practice. Find interesting, fun ways to fit the things you learned in your lesson into your daily life, which will make memorizing things like vocabulary and tenses a little easier.

Listening

Working on your French listening skills is a great thing to do on your own time. Watching the news in French is a great way to do this, since newscasters typically speak in plain language with clear inflections.

There are also YouTube channels and podcasts for French learners. Adding some French movies and TV series to your watchlist will get you more familiar with how French speakers talk to each other.

Reading

Reading in French is another thing that many learners put off. However, starting earlier will help you understand sentence structure and build your vocabulary.

Read what you like, whether it’s genre fiction, comics, magazines, or online writing. You can even get a French language translation of a familiar favorite. Shoot for spending 15-30 minutes a day reading. When you can, read out loud. It’s a great way to practice speaking without having to think about what you’re saying.

French Immersion

When many people hear the word “immersion” in the context of language learning, they imagine traveling to a foreign country and diving right in. If you can do that, that’s great! However, that’s not all that immersion means.

Immersion can refer to the teaching technique of using both your native language and the target language in instruction. The goal of immersion is eventually for the student and instructor to speak to each other in the target language exclusively. Clearly, that will take some time but there are things you can do to get there faster.

From the first lesson, you can ask clarifying questions in French. For example, if you want to know how to say something in French, ask “Comment dit-on ___ en français?” If you have a question, say “J’ai une question.” If you want to ask what something is, ask “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” As time goes on, keep using what you learn as much as you can.

Immersion also involves incorporating the language into your daily life. There are plenty of ways you can do that Seek out communities of French speakers online and in-person. If you live in a city with a French Consulate check out their events that are open to the public. Switch the language settings on your devices or social media accounts to French. Add French-language entertainment to your rotation. Narrate your life in French at home. That last one may feel silly when you do it, but it will get you into the habit of thinking in French.

Learning from your Mistakes

One of the benefits of private tutoring is having someone to hold you accountable and give you constructive feedback when you make mistakes. As human beings, our first instinct when we get feedback can be to get defensive or discouraged. However, since there are a lot of moving parts to learning a new language, you are going to make a lot of mistakes as a beginner. This does not mean that you suck, but it is important not to develop bad habits early on. That is why getting feedback is important. It is also important not to let fear of making mistakes lead to fear of trying. If you mess up and get corrected, you will know for next time.

Building a Solid Tutor-Student Relationship

Committing to a tutor is just the beginning of your journey. If you maintain a respectful, professional relationship with them, you could work together for a long time. There’s no need to be particularly formal with your tutor or treat them like an authority figure, but it is important to put in the work outside of your lessons and respect their time and effort. What are you waiting for? Get started today!