How can I learn French?
July 13, 2007 1:18 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way for an adult to learn French?

French just didn't interest me at school so I didn't put in any effort. But a visit to Paris in my early twenties left me a Francophile.

So far I've tried some Michel Thomas CDs, which are effective but very slow going, and I really want to learn how to read and write French (Thomas' courses concentrate on spoken language).

I tried an evening class but I found it hard to get to lessons, and the mixed nature of the class (some bright people, some not so bright) made learning painfully slow.

I work as a writer and have no problems understanding the parts of speech/tenses, so I guess I'm looking for a course that progresses relatively quickly and doesn't include the standard go-slow caveats (eg I don't need to be told what past/present/future tenses are). But I am an almost complete beginner.
posted by humblepigeon to Education (17 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
My local college has all kinds of ads posted on the bulletin boards for french lessons and french tutors. If you can afford it, you could have someone come to your house and teach you french on a one-on-one basis.

Also, french television/dvd's with the french subtitles might help. Try getting a french novel that has an english translation.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:32 PM on July 13, 2007

How I learned French in one year.

There's no real short-cut, but the essay does a decent job of laying out a set of sufficient steps.
posted by OmieWise at 1:34 PM on July 13, 2007 [3 favorites]

Learning a language is one of those "learning-by-doing" things. If you've tried CDs and classes and it still doesn't click for you, moving to a French speaking part of the world and immersing yourself in the culture is probably the only way to learn the language.

I had the same sort of circumstances with the German language. I finally learned to speak fluently after I moved to Germany. YMMV.
posted by chillmost at 1:34 PM on July 13, 2007

Perhaps try classes somewhere other than the first place? If you're in a big city, there are almost certainly other places to study French.

There's no substitute for real-world practice, though. Your profile say's your in the UK, too - so if you can wing it, try to spend as much time in France and other Francophone places as possible. Ryanair or Eurostar plus a hostel wouldn't bankrupt you for a long weekend every couple of months!

Finally, the Rosetta Stone system is relatively expensive (though I get it for free online with my library card!), but excellent - I'm working on my French right now after a two-year hiatus and it's really superb. This is like the third time I've recommended it here - I swear, I'm not a shill! Here's a review.
posted by mdonley at 1:38 PM on July 13, 2007

Un Coup de Foudre
posted by Wilder at 1:39 PM on July 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am currently taking French lessons as a complete beginner at the Alliance France in NYC (other locations in link). I'm in my 4th week and really enjoying it. The classes are immersive (although as beginners, my teacher does speak a bit of English to help with more complex ideas). Unlike my high school and college Spanish, this approach is much more integrative with regards to speaking and reading. We didn't start with long lists of vocabulary or endless conjugating. Principles of sentence structure, verb tense, pronouns, and pronounciation are all woven together in excercises we do in class, with lots of class participation (my class is 10 people).

It helps that I have my French speaking boyfriend to practice with, and also listening to French pop music has helped to develop an ear for pronunciation (before it was just sounds, now I can actually make out words!)
posted by kimdog at 1:45 PM on July 13, 2007

posted by chuckdarwin at 1:46 PM on July 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

so I guess I'm looking for a course that progresses relatively quickly and doesn't include the standard go-slow caveats (eg I don't need to be told what past/present/future tenses are)

The FSI language courses pretty much fit that description. They just start moving and explain things along the way. Here's French. Oh, and it's free.
posted by vacapinta at 1:55 PM on July 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

My experience was with Spanish, but I found Pimsleur method perfect for me, and I didn't do well in any language in school and hated other tapes. They look a little expensive, but my library had a complete set. They also had a 'Short Course' of 6-8 tapes if you just want a quick start.
posted by MtDewd at 2:14 PM on July 13, 2007

John Walker raved about the French in Action video series (free streaming) on Cool Tools years ago.
posted by djb at 2:15 PM on July 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

Hands down, the best way is for you to actually go to France. If you want to learn a language, and I mean really learn it you have to be immersed in it. For real proficiency, you have to use it every day and learn to think in French. And, of course, you'll actually learn how French is spoken in the real world. That's something that you simply won't get from a book, tapes or videos.

The personal discipline on your part will be in not reverting to English as a crutch. Speaking English with intent is fine of course, but force yourself into the middle of everything. The the culture, the literature, the food, the people. When you come out the other side, you'll understand far more than just the words, you'll understand the language.
posted by mstefan at 3:06 PM on July 13, 2007

This worked for me, got me up to speed very quickly. I then improved on that by visiting France regularly.
posted by fire&wings at 3:32 PM on July 13, 2007

I have heard good things about French for Reading specifically for people with your goals. The Amazon page should direct you to other, similar texts.
posted by papakwanz at 5:28 PM on July 13, 2007

I assume your big challenge is spoken french. For this, nothing beats getting a host of "french for kids" material (try amazon). It sounds counter-intuitive, but as an adult, that will help you the most in terms of quickly getting spoken french down. Why? Cuz such material starts you off with catchy songs, nursery rhymes - stuff you can sing. And singing is more interesting than vocab lists. And singing immediately forces you to speak french. And singing is a lot more fun than memorizing. It'll get you off the ground in a hurry. Start with that, move to other audio-video material (again, rather than books) - streaming video and audio anywhere on the web (from youtube to french tv channels online to french dvd movies). Memorize snippets of dialogue etc. Translate and memorize whole songs. Translations are avail online, and babel fish translater will give you the gist of it quickly and immediately (you can fine tune that with any online french-english dictionary - its all pretty quick). Sing them out loud, say them out loud. This approach also has the advantage of introducing you to french popular culture quickly, which again works in your favor in terms of getting to spoken language quickly.
posted by jak68 at 9:04 PM on July 13, 2007

jak68: I assume your big challenge is spoken french.

OP: I really want to learn how to read and write French (Thomas' courses concentrate on spoken language).

I second everyone who's said 'spend as much time in a Francophone country as possible'. And read, read, read - a decent French newspaper, magazines, novels that take your fancy even though they may be hard going. Find as many excuses to write French as you can.

One way to do this might be to sign up for an immersion course for a couple of months somewhere in France, but I don't have personal experience of any such courses.
posted by altolinguistic at 4:57 AM on July 14, 2007

French podcasts.
posted by bluebird at 6:38 AM on July 14, 2007

CoolTools also recommended Rosetta Stone. (Note that the extent of my experience is the online demo, so I can hardly offer a worthwhile evaluation.)
posted by fogster at 8:35 AM on July 14, 2007

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