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How to feel comfortable speaking French, even when you’re not fluent.

by | French language tips

How to feel comfortable speaking French, even when you’re not fluent.

by | Mar 12, 2020 | French language tips

You don’t have to be bilingual to feel comfortable speaking French.

You’ve probably heard French native speakers, confidently speaking English or other languages, though making lots of mistakes. You too, should feel comfortable speaking French with whatever minimal French skills you already have mastered. What does fluent or bilingual mean? I see a lot of people obsessed with these two adjectives. If this is your case, let me reassure you, as a French teacher, I consider anyone being able to make themselves understood fluent or bilingual.

How to be confident

Before starting, let’s explore a few definitions together. What is confidence? According to the Oxford dictionary, being confident is : a belief in your own ability to do things and be successful.

What is an ability? *ability to do something, * the fact that somebody (something) is able to do something. * a level of skill or intelligence

There are many skills we’ve learned. If I’m not mistaken, we’ve learned most of the skills that we use today. What are some of our learned skills?

  • talking
  • eating on our own
  • driving
  • writing
  • reading

Based on those two definitions, confidence is undoubtedly not created in one day. Confidence doesn’t fall from the sky. I love TED speakers and I’ll use them as an example in this article to discuss confidence with you. I’ve always been so impressed by their performances. How are they so comfortable and confident in front of an audience that they don’t know?

Like TED speakers, people with confidence have some attitudes in common.

 1. The first I’ve identified is that they know their homework. They perfectly know their sh*t. This is why they don’t stress out, and they don’t freak out! They won’t be scared by a difficult question either because they know how to answer. They are trained to do that. They repeat their homework.

 2. The second skill, people with confidence have in common is that they don’t take criticism and attacks personally. They don’t get easily offended. They move forward, they don’t let the external factors affect them from achieving their objectives.

3. The third skill they have in common is that they are not scared to say they don’t know, and to recognize their mistakes.

Now that we know more about confidence, how can this help with your French skills even if you are not bilingual? What is the link with learning languages? When we learn a language as an adult, we often think that we are not legitimate, that native speakers will judge us, that we are not good enough. These negative thoughts are totally understandable. I’ve been through this myself, and not only with learning languages. It’s not comfortable. The good news is that it’s not as difficult as you imagine. So now. How can you finally face this blockage and feel comfortable speaking French? What do you need to reach the next level?

In this article, I want to share with you tips I’ve developed for myself and also tested with my students in the past 14 years:

 1. Do your homework.

It sounds obvious but you should know at least the following tenses : present, past, imperfect, conditional and subjunctive. You should know them because verbs are also vocabulary. If you don’t know many verbs, your sentences will sound poor and under constructed. It will lead to frustration because you won’t be able to express yourself how you would like to.

Like the speakers presenting a TED talk, you need to know some key sentences and grammar to communicate. You’re not required to be an expert, of course, but you need to have some knowledge. We panic when we don’t know, when we are unsure, and when we know that our knowledge is not at the level we would like.

How do you memorize your basics? By completing exercises. Many studies show that handwriting and writing down your exercises, and the answers, help you memorize your shit. If you only read your exercises without really completing them, you won’t improve your French skills. I’m sorry! If this is what you’ve been doing all along, it might be the reason why you are scared. It will lead to only rough knowledge of certain topics. So poor knowledge leads to poor conversation, as you have probably already experienced, and you know how unpleasant and awkward it can be.

For many aspects in life, such as networking, getting a new job, one constant piece of advice is – Do your homework!  Learning the French language is not an exception.

2. Don’t be ashamed if you don’t understand everything. Ask for help!

Remember what our dear friend Confucius once said: If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. You were born to be amazing, not to be perfect.

Know keys sentences you can use when you don’t understand:

  • Excusez-moi, je n’ai pas compris.
  • Excusez-moi, pouvez-vous répéter ? 
  • Excusez-moi, est-ce que vous pouvez répéter?
  • Excusez-moi, j’étudie le français et il y a un mot que je ne connais pas. Est-ce que vous pouvez l’écrire sur mon téléphone ? 
  • Excusez-moi, je suis un peu lent.e, j’apprends le français. Est-ce que vous pouvez répéter lentement, s’il vous plait? 
  • Je suis désolée je ne comprends pas. Est-ce que vous pouvez répéter ?  

3. Don’t be impressed by critics. 

Keep in mind that learning a language as an adult means being comfortable being uncomfortable. (According to Marie Oliveras, one of my lovely students in Paris) . Don’t let anyone make you doubt your skills. I know it’s hard but it’s essential to get over the fear of speaking.

Yes, there will always be people (dickheads) that will pretend that they don’t understand you because of your accent or reply to you in English. But most importantly, you’ll always meet people who will be impressed and amazed by your French skills.

4. Ask closed questions. 

When asking closed questions, you’ll only have 3 potential answers: oui , non, je ne sais pas. This can absolutely help you guide the conversation and the communication without being in situations that are too challenging.

5. Talk to yourself first. 

I recently met an English teacher who is now a tour guide in Paris. He used to tell his students to first talk to themselves in their head to practice and build confidence. Nobody will hear and you are free to talk as much as you want. This tip is so brilliant.

6. Hire a private French teacher

If you want to make sure you are understood, you can train your skills with a private French teacher who’ll guide you to the language and help you be more confident. The course will be adapted to your needs and expectations only. You’ll feel very comfortable learning and making mistakes. Depending on your level, you may need only a few sessions to be confident.

Now that you know some amazing tricks to be more comfortable, you don’t have any excuse to wait! Implement a change right now in your life! At the beginning of the article, I referred to French native speakers as inspiration. Be confident in speaking French, even if you are not fluent and you make mistakes. Be like the French, fake it until you make it, be confident even if your French is not perfect. Don’t forget the most important part is not to be fluent or perfect but to be understood!

Do you want to join a community of other French learners on Facebook and share your thoughts about this topic?