The Ultimate Guide to Learning French (when you hate it)
“I will never be able to speak French in my whole life, this language is just a nightmare.” Has this thought ever crossed your mind?
If yes, how many times in the last couple of weeks? If the answer is “too often” and you want to find a solution The Ultimate Guide to Learning French, is for you 😉 .
Motivation, regularity, and discipline are the three factors that disappear in no time when you’re studying something you don’t like. Do you remember how you suffered in high school when you had to study that course you hated, but you managed to make it to the final exam anyway? So do I! It was pretty traumatic and unpleasant. It was actually a painful experience. Surprisingly, time seems to stretch out for much longer when we study something we don’t like and/or don’t understand. However… Most of us managed to do it at some point.
Like you, during my life I’ve learned to do things I didn’t enjoy: accountability, using new software, spending time with the in-laws without telling them to fuck off, smiling at a screaming baby on an 11-hour flight, refusing the last glass of wine because you have to wake up early tomorrow, studying biology for an exam in high school… Our brains help us to calm down and find positive input in order to make these things happen.
Learning French when you hate it, is exactly the same.
In this ultimate guide, I’ll give you my secret tips to finally be able to learn French, even if you can’t stand it.
- Find the reasons why you hate the French language.
Put into exact words your feelings and obstacles. Here is a non-exhaustive list of excellent potential reasons to hate the French language and hate learning it:
- The teacher
- The country
- The sound
- The grammar
- The teaching methodology
- Following the influence of a group
- Rephrase your problem with the French language in a way so you can find a solution.
Here are a few examples:
- I’ve tried and I failed
- I don’t like to speak like a baby
- I want to be understood right away
- I don’t know how to study it
- I’m scared to fail again
- My grammar is weak in my native language, so it’s impossible for me to understand French grammar
- I hate making mistakes
- My friends hate it
- I have problems memorizing
- I get corrected all the time
- I don’t understand native speakers
- Be organized to avoid self-sabotage
You’ll need organization in your studies to make the learning process go smoothly. You can study with a friend or hire a private French teacher to help you; this can give you the initiative to put things in order. You may also want to take the time to classify your documents if you’re studying with copies.
You can classify them by perspectives: vocabulary, grammar, tenses, conversation, daily life, culture, listening exercises, etc. Having your stuff organized will make you more likely to review your documents again. If you know it’s a complete disaster, it’s easier to avoid mess and give it up too quickly.
- Start smart
Don’t work too hard on your studies. Set yourself baby goals and reach them with baby steps. I know some people who think that because they live in France or Belgium for more than 3 years, they should be bilingual. Do you think the same about yourself? I think this is so wrong because, if you’re not bilingual by now, it’s probably for a reason – kids, work, learning other topics to get a job, traveling, building an empire…
As a result, it’s difficult to become bilingual while you’re busy. Once you decide to attend a French course, give yourself small objectives and big rewards. By the way, who cares whether or not you’re bilingual? I always say to my students that the most important thing isn’t to become bilingual or a translator, but to be understood. After all, perfect is boring. Give yourself small objectives and you’ll reach big results in the long-term. Small efforts are always less intimidating and easier to reach.
- Add games or fun challenges to your study sessions
Find activities you like to increase your chance of having fun and learning. It’ll make it enjoyable and competitive. If you play tennis in French, for example, you’ll focus on playing well regardless of the negative aspect of the language. Activities will help you focus on the fun and help rid you of the frustration. Here are a few examples of fun activities you can take part in:
- Cooking class
- Networking in French
- Online training about a topic you like in French (MOOC)
- Dance class
- Language exchange apéro
- Watch YouTube channels about topics you like
- Meditation in French to sleep to (very powerful tool)
- Adopt a positive mindset.
It’s very important, for your mood and your motivation, that you connect learning French with a positive mindset. If you sigh, drag your feet, and complain, this will deeply affect your attendance to your French classes. In addition, if you bring your bad mood into the class, you may affect your teacher and/or others in a group setting. I’m personally very sensitive to moods. If I have to teach French to a person who is moody, I may be affected as well. It’s important to check your mood and add some positive reward. If you go to your class or you manage to finish a page of exercises, reward yourself with 5 minutes on Facebook or a coffee break.
- Glorify your mistakes.
It’s okay to make mistakes. Learning something new is all about making mistakes all the time. We’ve learned to eat alone, write, read, walk – and it didn’t happen in one day. We’ve failed at things many times before being able to do them on our own. Learning French as a second language is exactly the same. The French have a big and ambiguous relationship with failure. They hate it and they’re ashamed of it. If you’re reading this article, you probably aren’t French – which is excellent news because it means that you aren’t genetically petrified by mistakes. As a result, you can glorify your mistakes because, when you make mistakes, you make progress. The more mistakes you make, the better your results will be.
- Ask for help. Don’t stay alone
It’s totally okay to ask for help and guidance, especially as long if you don’t feel confident enough. It will give you a rhythm and commitment. You could hire a private French teacher for a few sessions at your own pace to help you unblock. Joining and being part of a community of French learners on Meetup or Facebook can also increase your chance to find more people going through the same feelings as you. There are tons of great groups for French learners where learners, francophones, and French teachers interact together to help people learn and improve their French.
- Find a place to vent your feelings.
As mention in #8, being part of a community on Facebook or Meetup can be a good place to vent. too. If you’re attending a group French course or a private French course, you may also be able to mention things to your teacher. Good teachers will understand your feelings and will know exactly how to help you.
- Give yourself a break, if you need it.
Unless you’re applying for a job or you want to do a speech in French for your wedding, keep in mind that there’s no rush to learn and speak French. Some people love working under pressure and need deadlines to challenge their studies and progress, but not everyone. Other people, maybe like you and for sure like me, don’t like deadlines and pressure. I personally prefer to take my time, even if my progress will be slower. Slower is better than nothing.
The tips I’ve just written are tips that I’ve applied myself in learning Dutch. If you want to speak French and be understood, even if you hate it, finding strategies that work for you is essential. You have all the rights and the reasons in the world to hate the French language. Today, as Paulo Coelho said once, “I learned long ago that in order to heal my wounds, I must have the courage to face up with them.” In other words, you have two options in your life:
- You continue hating this language and you stop making efforts to go further in your studies.
- You decide to put your excuses and hate to one side and start learning.
The hardest part is always the beginning. Once you start, you can still hate the language! However, instead of deeply hating it, why don’t you try to be neutral about it? This will drastically help you to learn French; try to erase the negative feelings.