How Can I Meaningfully Practice French Conversation?

The purpose of languages is to communicate with other people, but many learners put off practicing conversation. Some people get self-conscious or intimidated, thinking they have to be perfect to converse with a native speaker. Others simply don’t know where to start. However, it doesn’t have to be as hard as you imagine it will be. Follow these tips to practice French conversation and you will be talking confidently in no time. 

The Benefits of Practicing French Conversation

Conversation is one of many facets of french language practice. Others include reading, learning grammar, writing, and listening.

The act of intentionally practicing conversation in French not only prepares you for using your French skills in real-world settings, but it combines listening and speaking and trains your brain to think of sentences on the fly as opposed to memorizing and repeating or translating what you want to say from English to French.

Use French Conversation Practice To Improve Your Vocabulary

In preparation for getting to a conversational level, focus on vocabulary that is specifically relevant to you like your hobbies, job, family, and other interests. This will help you prepare to answer questions that people will actually ask you. Since these are words you will use often, it will be easy for you to remember them. 

Especially if you are a beginner or intermediate speaker, it’s impossible to know every word you will ever have to say. In conversations you have to think on your feet. Sometimes that will involve changing what you say to fit the words you know instead of translating your thoughts directly.

This might feel uncomfortable, but it’s an important part of learning. Similarly, when you are conversing in French with a more advanced speaker, especially if that person is a native speaker, you will get chances to learn new vocabulary in real time because they will probably use words that you do not recognize. 

Practice Listening in French

Conversation practice is as much about practicing listening as it is about practicing speaking.

If you’re worried that your listening skills aren’t good enough for conversation yet, you have plenty of options for practicing it on your own. For example, if you like YouTube Channels of podcasts, check out these recommendations for French learners.

Watching the news in French is a great way to practice listening comprehension since newscasters typically speak clearly and  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. 

Combine French Conversation Practice with Pronunciation Practice

A common reason French learners hesitate to converse with more advanced speakers is insecurity about how they sound. This is understandable since French pronunciation is challenging for English speakers.

Fortunately for you though, it’s solvable. French sounds are very different from English sounds despite using the same alphabet, but the pronunciation patterns are much more consistent in French than English. Yes, even for the silent letters and accent marks.

Getting familiar with these rules and doing pronunciation exercises (there are plenty on YouTube) to get used to saying the sounds out loud will help you grow in your confidence.

Speaking Like a Real Person 

You’ve probably noticed that dialogue in textbooks, apps, and other materials designed for beginners don’t necessarily sound like how real people talk. Starting with simple sentences and common French phrases makes sense for learners who are not yet skilled enough to handle complex sentences.

These texts are also designed to more clearly demonstrate grammar in French. However, they do make the transition from material for learners to real-world French more challenging. If you’re worried about sounding too robotic, learning some French idiomatic phrases and expressions will also help you sound more conversational and understand native speakers better.

Reading, watching, and listening to authentic French-language media whenever you can will also help you on this front.  

Practice Speaking on Your Own 

Believe it or not, you can absolutely practice speaking French on your own.

Using French immersion tactics, you can incorporate French into your everyday life without leaving your home. Narrating your life around the house in French may feel embarrassing, but it will get you in the habit of talking about the things you do and thinking in French mode. 

One fun method for responding to French speech when no one is around uses movie scenes. First, put on a movie in French. It can be originally in French or dubbed, it doesn’t matter. Then, during a scene with a lot of dialogue, pause the movie and respond to the previous line in French. Press play again and compare your response to the character’s.

You can even practice asking questions based on new information in French by watching interviews and coming up with your own questions for the subjects.

All of these methods, and any others you think of on your own, can supplement but not fully replace French conversation with another real live human being. 

Practice with a Group

Whether you are taking a French class or learning independently, seeking out groups where you can practice speaking French is always a good idea.

Many cities have social meetups for language learners. They often call them language exchange groups and language cafés. If you cannot find one in your area, you can always find online groups or even start your own. Building relationships with new people primarily in French is a unique challenge, but one that will ultimately make you a better speaker.

(Not to mention, it’s always great to make new friends who share the interest and may have other things in common with you.)  

Your best bet is to seek out a group with a variety of skill levels and diverse backgrounds. That way you will meet both people who you can learn from and people who can learn from you. If it’s all people who came to learn French in similar ways and who are using the same methods, you will not have different knowledge to share with each other.

However, it is important to not make these groups your only source of conversation practice. Though sometimes these groups will have French teachers, native speakers, and other experts, that is not something you can necessarily count on. There is a risk of mistakes becoming habits if you are mainly practicing with other learners.

A French Tutor vs A Conversation Partner

The best way to find someone to regularly practice French conversation with is to find a French tutor or conversation partner. What is the difference between a tutor and a conversation partner?

There is some overlap between the two categories. However, typically, a tutor is focused on academic goals like reviewing your homework, teaching study skills, or giving practice tests. Depending on your goals, and how well you communicate them, French tutors are excellent conversation partners, and can help course-correct your progress as you learn to speak the language with more confidence.

Connect with a language tutor today

A conversation partner is just what it sounds like: someone who practices conversation in French with you. Some folks don’t hone in on teaching French language, but make themselves available to help learners better understand how to use their new skills.

There are several apps you can use to connect with native French speakers for conversation partnering. However, finding a tutor with a focus on conversation sessions makes you more likely to find someone who is not only knowledgeable about French, but has more experience teaching.

French Conversation Sessions with a Tutor

When you’re looking for a tutor, you can specify that one of your goals is to work on conversation or that the relationship that you have in mind is more conversation partner than academic-style tutor if that would match your goals better. 

Some other criteria to keep in mind when you are choosing a tutor include education background, amount of experience, cost, reviews from previous students, and particular areas of expertise or preferences (for example, if they specialize in preparing for a standardized test you plan on taking or prefer working with certain age groups or skill levels.) 

Tutors will typically have French conversation starters prepared ahead of time, but it does not hurt to have some topics in mind that you can spend a considerable amount of time talking about. For example, if it’s your first session, ask the kind of questions you would ask whenever you are first getting to know someone. Think of real-life things to talk about that use the present tense, past tense, and future tense.

As you continue to work together and learn more about each other, it will become easier to think of more specific things to talk about. During your lessons, it is important to be open to feedback and to write down important things you learn.

On Your Way To Being A Francophone?

French conversation practice has benefits for every goal.

Not only will it help you speak and listen smoothly, but you can grow your vocabulary and improve your pronunciation. It’s understandable that working with a conversation partner or group can be intimidating at first, but remember that practice is how you get better.

Any partner who is worth working with won’t make fun of you or otherwise embarrass you for making mistakes. What are you waiting for? Get started today.

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