Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 76): improve your french


Improve your French listening comprehension.

1) Listen first

If you want to test your aural comprehension and/or you feel comfortable with your listening skills, listen to the sound file one or more times, to see how much you understand. Then read through the transcript and/or translation, either before or while listening to the sound file again, to fill in any gaps.

2) Read first

Students who don’t feel up to the challenge of listening first might be better off doing just the opposite: read or skim the transcript first to get an idea of what it’s about, and then listen to the sound file. You can listen while reading along with the transcript and/or translation, or just listen and then go back to the transcript, to see how much you were able to pick up.

3) Listen and read

This third option is the best for students with very weak listening skills. Open up the transcript or translation in a new window, and then start the sound file so that you can follow the script as you listen. This will help to make the connection between what you are hearing and what it means. (This is similar to watching a French movie while reading the English subtitles.)

The “listen first” technique is the most challenging. If you feel confident in your listening skills or you’d like get an idea of how good they are, that method is best. Less advanced students, however, may find that listening first is too difficult and even frustrating. If your listening skills are weak, you will likely find it helpful to see the transcript and/or translation before or while listening. It doesn’t matter which method you choose – your goal here is to improve your listening comprehension. Just keep listening and checking the transcript as many times as it takes until finally you can understand the sound file without looking at the transcript. If you do these kinds of exercises regularly, I guarantee that your listening comprehension will improve.

Improve your French pronunciation

Know your genders. One of the most important things to remember about French nouns is that each one has a gender. While there are a few patterns that let you know what the gender of a particular word is, for most words it’s just a matter of memorization. Therefore, the best way to know whether a word is masculine or feminine is to make all your vocabulary lists with an article, so that you learn the gender with the word itself. Always write une chaise or la chaise (chair), rather than just chaise. When you learn the gender as part of the word, you’ll always know what gender it is later on when you need to use it.

This is particularly important with what I call dual-gender nouns. Dozens of French pairs have different meanings depending on whether they are masculine or feminine, so yes, gender really does make a difference.

Chance encounters. When reading French, it’s very likely that you’ll come across a lot of new vocabulary. While looking up every single word you don’t know in the dictionary may disrupt your comprehension of the story, you might not understand anyway without some of those key terms. So you have a few options:

1. Underline the words and look them up later
2. Write down the words and look them up later
3. Look up the words as you go

Underlining is the best technique, because when you look the words up later, you have the context right there in the case of words with multiple meanings. If that’s not an option, try to write down the sentence in your vocabulary list, rather than just the word itself. Once you’ve looked everything up, read the article again, with or without referring back to your list, to see how much more you understand now. Another option is to look up all the words after each paragraph or each page, rather than waiting until you’ve read the whole thing.

Listening can also offer up a lot of new vocabulary. Again, it’s a good idea to write down the phrase or sentence so that you have context to understand the meaning provided.

Get a decent dictionary. If you’re still using one of those little pocket dictionaries, you need to seriously consider an upgrade. When it comes to French dictionaries, bigger really is better.

Practice French Vocabulary. Once you’ve learned all this new French vocabulary, you need to practice it. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to find just the right word when speaking and writing, as well as to understand when listening and reading. Some of these activities might seem boring or silly, but the point is simply to get you used to seeing, hearing, and speaking the words – here are some ideas:

1) Say it out loud.
When you come across a new word while reading a book, newspaper, or French lesson, say it out loud. Seeing new words is good, but saying them out loud is even better, because it gives you practice both speaking and listening to the sound of the word.

2) Write it out.
Spend 10 to 15 minutes every day writing lists of vocabulary. You can work with different themes, such as “kitchen items” or “automotive terms,” or just practice words that you continue to have trouble with. After you write them down, say them out loud. Then write them again, say them again, and repeat 5 or 10 times. When you do this, you’ll see the words, feel what it’s like to say them, and hear them, all of which will help you the next time you are actually speaking French.

3) Use flashcards.
Make a set of flashcards for new vocabulary by writing the French term on one side (along with an article, in the case of nouns) and the English translation on the other.

4) Label everything.
Surround yourself with French by labeling your home and office with stickers or post-it notes.

5) Use it in a sentence.
When you go over your vocab lists, don’t just look at the words – put them into sentences. Try making 3 different sentences with each word, or try to create a paragraph or two using all the new words together.

6) Sing along.
Set some vocabulary to a simple tune, like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and sing it in the shower, in your car on the way to work/school, or while washing the dishes.

7)Mots fléchés
French-style crossword puzzles, mots fléchés, are a great way to challenge your knowledge of French vocabulary.

8) Test yourself.
See how well you know your words by taking a few French vocabulary quizzes.

9) Vocabulary Books. Another way to learn and practice French vocabulary is with specialized vocabulary books.

Improve your French verb conjugations

Conjugating French verbs in a workbook or letter is one thing, but remembering individual verb conjugations when you’re speaking is another matter entirely. Here are some tips to help you get better at conjugating French verbs.

1) Learn the Conjugations

Before you can even start to worry about speaking French with correctly conjugated verbs, you have to learn the conjugations.

2) Practice Conjugating

Once you’ve learned the conjugations, you need to practice them. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to “grab” the right conjugation during spontaneous discussion. Some of these activities might seem boring or silly, but the point is simply to get you used to seeing, hearing, and speaking the conjugations – here are some ideas:

Say them out loud. When you come across verbs while reading a book, newspaper, or French lesson, say the subject and verb out loud. Reading conjugations is good, but saying them out loud is even better, because it gives you practice both speaking and listening to the conjugation.

Write them out. Spend 10 to 15 minutes every day conjugating verbs along with the appropriate subject pronouns. You can practice writing either the conjugations for several different tenses/moods of a single verb, or all of the, for example, imperfect conjugations for several verbs. After you write them out, say them out loud. Then write them again, say them again, and repeat 5 or 10 times. When you do this, you’ll see the conjugations, feel what it’s like to say them, and hear them, all of which will help you the next time you are actually speaking French.

Conjugations for everyone. Pick up a newspaper or book and look for a verb conjugation. Say it out loud, then reconjugate the verb for all the other grammatical persons. So if you see il est (he is), you’ll write and/or speak all of the present tense conjugations for être. When you’re done, look for another verb and do the same thing.

Change the tense. This is similar to the above, but this time you reconjugate the verb into other tenses you want to practice. For example, if you see the third person singular present tense il est, change it to il a été (passé composé), il était (imperfect), and il sera (future). Write and/or speak these new conjugations, then look for another verb.

Sing along. Set some conjugations to a simple tune, like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and sing it in the shower, in your car on the way to work/school, or while washing the dishes.

Use flashcards. Make a set of flashcards for the verbs you have the most trouble with by writing a subject pronoun and the infinitive on one side and the correct conjugation on the other. Then test yourself by looking at the first side and saying the subject and its conjugation out loud, or by looking at the conjugation and deciding which subject pronoun(s) it’s conjugated for.

Test yourself. See how well you know your conjugations.  Another way to practice conjugations is with specialized French verb workbooks.

Improve your French vocabulary

Speaking French is more than just knowing the vocabulary and grammar rules – you also need to pronounce the letters correctly. Unless you started learning French as a child, you’re unlikely to ever sound like a native speaker, but it’s certainly not impossible for adults to speak with a decent French accent. Here are some ideas to help you improve your French pronunciation.

1) Learn French Sounds.

Basic French pronunciation - The first thing you need to do is understand how each letter is usually pronounced in French.

Letters in detail - As in English, some letters have two or more sounds, and letter combinations often make completely new sounds.

French accents - Accents don’t show up on certain letters just for decoration – they often give clues about how to pronounce those letters.

International Phonetic Alphabet - Familiarize yourself with the pronunciation symbols used in French dictionaries.

2) Get a decent dictionary

When you see a new word, you can look it up to find out how it’s pronounced. But if you’re using a little pocket dictionary, you’ll find that many words aren’t there. When it comes to French dictionaries, bigger really is better. Some French dictionary software even includes sound files.

2) Pronunciation Preparation and Practice

Once you’ve learned how to pronounce everything, you need to practice it. The more you speak, the easier it will be to make all of those sounds. Here are some techniques that can help you in your French accent improvement project.

3) Listen to French
The more you listen to French, the better you’ll get at hearing and distinguishing between unfamiliar sounds, and the easier it will be for you to produce them yourself.

4) Listen and repeat

Sure, this isn’t something you’d do in real life, but mimicking words or phrases over and over is an excellent way to develop your pronunciation skills. My French audio dictionary has 2,500 sound files of words and short phrases.

5) Listen to yourself

Record yourself speaking French and then listen carefully to the playback – you might discover pronunciation mistakes that you’re not aware of when you speak.

6) Read out loud

If you’re still stumbling over words with tricky letter combinations or lots of syllables, you definitely need more practice. Try reading out loud to get used to making all of those new sounds.

7) Pronunciation Problems

Depending on your native language, certain French sounds and pronunciation concepts are more difficult than others.

8) Speak Like the Natives

When you learn French, you learn the correct way to say everything, not necessarily the way the French actually say it.

9) Pronunciation Tools
Unlike grammar and vocabulary, pronunciation is something that you can’t learn by reading (although there are some excellent French pronunciation books). But you really do need to interact with native speakers. Ideally, you would do this face to face, such as by going to France or another French-speaking country, taking a class, working with a tutor, or joining the Alliance Française.

If those truly are not an option, at the very least you need to listen to French, such as with these tools:
* French listening online
* French audio books
* French audio magazines
* French audio tapes and CDs
* French radio
* French software
* French TV

The Bottom Line
Getting a good French accent is all about practice – both passive (listening) and active (speaking). Practice really does make perfect.

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