author profile
Lauren Harsh

How to Learn French on Your Own

Once you find a French learning approach that works for you, you’ll be surprised by how far you can go.

Is it possible to learn French outside of a classroom setting? Sure! Whether you’re anxious about making mistakes (an inevitable part of learning) in front of other people, your schedule is too unconventional to take a class, or you’re just an independent spirit, you have options.

You could follow an online French course, take private lessons, order some materials and buckle down to study, download an app, or any combination of tools.

There are plenty of resources and tips to learn French available at your fingertips. However, all the options can seem overwhelming. As any internet-literate person knows, just because something shows up on Google doesn’t mean it’s reliable.

This guide will help you figure out how to learn French on your own based on recommendations from French educators.

Why learn French?

Many people in the United States do not think of French as a so-called useful language, often citing Spanish and Mandarin Chinese as examples of useful languages. No disrespect to either of those languages, but these people are objectively incorrect. If you’re on the fence between starting French or another language, don’t let this attitude talk you out of French.

Not only is it relatively easy for native English speakers to learn, with 50% of English words having French origins, but it is a truly global language. It is the native tongue of over 300 million people, most of whom are younger than thirty. It is the official language of thirty two governments and is the only language besides English that is spoken on every continent and taught in schools in almost every country. Besides, the usefulness of a language is up to you.

If you use it, it’s useful.

How long does learning French take?

How long it takes to learn French on your own depends on how much work you put in, what your goals are, and how quick a study you are. Becoming conversational in a year is a reasonable timeline for many people, but don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes longer.

Just try your best. Don’t put stock into slogans like “our program will make you fluent in two months, guaranteed.” Sure, some intensive methods can speed up the process, but that gimmicky mindset gives people unrealistic expectations of the time and effort required to learn a new language. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Goal setting

“I want to be fluent” is a great level of enthusiasm to start your French self-study with, but it’s useless as a goal. Not only is it vague, but if you’re a beginner, you have no idea if it’s achievable. Break it down further by asking yourself how you define being fluent, why you want to get there, and what you want to do once you get there.

Some popular goals include going on a trip, communicating with french-speaking colleagues and clients, reading a certain French book, and being able to watch French-language films without subtitles.

Sticking to a schedule

French educators recommend committing to seven hours per week to become conversational in a year. This could mean an hour every day or it could mean taking some days off and working more than an hour on other days. Whatever is consistent and keeps you motivated is fine.

Organize those seven hours to make sure you are spending the time you need on specific skills. There are a few different ways you can do this. Take your time figuring out what’s right for you. As you advance and get to know your strengths and areas for growth, you will probably change it around. For example, if you find out that you’re great at reading, but need extra work on pronunciation, it doesn’t make sense to spend the same amount of time on them.

Try to stick to the same time every day and make it a time when you are energetic and can easily focus. That way you’ll stay motivated and retain what you learn better.

French language tutoring

French tutoring isn’t just for school kids. No matter how old you are, you can find a tutor or conversation partner for online or in-person sessions.

Private tutoring is more affordable than you may think. Many tutors charge less than twenty five dollars per hour. To figure out if a tutor would be a good fit, read through their profile to see if their expertise matches your goals. If you’re an adult hobbyist, someone who primarily works with young kids or prepares teenagers for AP and IB exams would not be the best fit, no matter how skilled they are at the language. Before you book a session, consider asking these questions.

Apps and activities

Apps are a popular language learning method, for good reason. They make learning feel less like work and they are easy to access. An app on its own is not an effective way to become proficient at any language, but they are a great tool to use along with other resources. Here are a few that have great French for beginners programs. You’ve probably heard of free game-based app Duolingo, but it is far from your only option. Memrise is based around flashcards. Tandem can set you up with a language partner to chat with. Babbel is a great way to practice real-life situations. Clozemaster uses a fill-in-the blank setup to help you understand words in context.

Not everyone enjoys apps. If you prefer an old-school approach, you can order a grammar textbook. If you need more explanation on certain french grammar concepts, you can find them on our blog. We have in-depth articles on past, present, and future tenses.

Listening comprehension

When you’re having a conversation, listening is just as important, if not more important, than speaking. You’ve got options for practicing it.

Check out these YouTube channels and podcasts for French learners if you enjoy these formats for informative content. Watching the news in French is a great way to practice listening comprehension since newscasters typically have voices that are easy to listen to and speak in plain language.

France24 is a great site to use. Since you’re probably spending a lot of time watching TV anyway, add some French movies and TV series to your watchlist. These will especially help you get familiar with colloquialisms.

Reading

Many people are intimidated by reading for the sake of reading in another language, but starting early is important for learning new vocabulary and sentence structures.

French has a reputation for its literature, but you don’t have to touch Les Misérables or The Count of Monte Cristo any time soon. 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. As long as it’s in French and you’re motivated to read it, it’s beneficial. Shoot for spending 15-30 minutes a day reading.

When you can, read out loud. It’s a great way to practice French pronunciation without having to think about what you’re saying. It takes time for a new language to feel comfortable coming out of your mouth. Getting used to it through reading will make you feel more comfortable saying sentences you formed yourself.

Cultural education

Learning cultural context is an important component to learning French. Books, movies, music, food, and publications from French-speaking countries will give you a deeper understanding of the language and broaden your horizons in general.

It is a good idea to go beyond metropolitan France in your cultural exposure. La Francophonie is global, after all. Quebec, Haiti, Lousisiana, French Polynesia, and several African countries have their own unique French dialects and rich cultural traditions.

Adding French to your everyday life

You don’t need a passport and a plane ticket to apply what you learn! 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. They’re not just for French nationals.

Try following tutorials in French for DIY projects if that’s something you’re interested in. Switch the language settings on your devices or social media accounts to French. 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. Being able to think of what you want to say in French using only the words you know as opposed to thinking of it in English and translating it into French is a turning point.

Once you find an approach that works for you based on these recommendations, you’ll be surprised by how far you can go. Don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes. The first step to being good at something is being bad at it.

And remember that staying motivated and trying your best does not mean “put pressure on yourself to be perfect.” Bon travail, mes amis!