How to become fluent in French - my proven step by step method
Do you look at people who have become fluent in a second language and wonder how they did it? If yes, keep reading. How do some people become fluent in French? How can *you* become fluent in French too? This article will give you the exact step by step method that I use with my coaching students in the High Road to Fluency. It isn't the only way to achieve fluency, but it is the method that works the best, in my experience. I have developed this method over the years as I was teaching French to students in different settings. It is based on the latest research about language learning and follows the guidelines of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL), which is the foundational document that gives directions for language teaching in the 21st century.
The method outlined below is the exact method that I use in my exclusive coaching program, the High Road to Fluency. Feel free to steal it, run with it and make yourself fluent within a few months. Once it's done, come back here and share your journey in the comments to inspire others.
Before you do that, there are two more things you need to know:
1- For obvious reasons, it's very difficult to learn a language entirely on your own, so, if you're not going to have a coach, you need to at least find someone that you can talk to in French. It could be a language partner or a study buddy.
2- Recently, I revealed that the way to learn French fast is to use a combination of focussed study and unfocussed study. In this article, we will deal only with focussed study. But remember to also add some unfocussed study in the mix to speed up your progress.
Before we jump to the step by step method, please grab your worksheet below. This worksheet will serve as the compass to keep your study on track, until you are fluent for good. So, if you want to be fluent one day (and sooner rather than later), download it now, fill it as you read this article and keep it safe because you will need to review it.
Got your worksheet? Awesome. Let's jump in...
Step 1 - Define Fluency
"Fluency" is one of these words... we think we know what it means, but if you ask different people, they will give you different definitions. This is totally fine, as long as you can get clear on what fluency means for you.
By the way, I made a live on my facebook page about this topic, and you can watch the replay right here:
In broad linguistic terms, Fluency is defined as "the ability to perform all the tasks you need to perform in a given language without friction or problems". "all the tasks you need to perform" just means to do everything you need (or want) to do. Of course, these "tasks" will be different from person to person, which is why it is crucial that you have a very specific definition of what fluency will look like for you, before you even try to achieve it. You wouldn't get in a car without first knowing where you are going (and ideally how you'll be getting there), would you?
Here is what you need to do to come up with a definition of fluency that you can use for your study:
1- Know why you are studying French.
As I explain in this video, the success of your study is mostly determined by how good your reasons to study are. So, make a list of the reasons why you are learning French, and make sure those reasons are strong enough to keep you going. If you need help with this, check out this video.
2- Get clear on your ideal outcome
Once you know why you are studying, you should also have a rough idea of what the outcome of your study will be. Once you are 'fluent', what will you be able to you? Define this in general terms first and write this definition under "step 1" in your worksheet.
Step 2 - Make a detailed list of all your "tasks"
"Task" is just a fancy expert word meaning "something you need/want to do (using the language)". Here are some examples: order coffee, read a sci-fi novel, give a talk about a topic, speak about work with your colleagues, speak about your weekend, listen to and understand the news, network at a conference, go to the cinema with your French date and actually understand the movie, etc. Anything you need to do while using the French language.
So, what are all the things you need to do? Use the chart in your worksheet to make a list of all of them. Be as exhaustive as possible. In which situations do you want to speak in French? You might get overwhelmed by this part of the process but just keep going. In step 4 you will learn how to get rid of this overwhelm. For now, just list them all.
Step 3 - Assess your current level
I must start with a caveat: research shows that 95% of the people tend to underestimate their own level. We just all naturally think that we suck at French, even when we don't. For this reason, getting your level assessed by an unbiased expert is a surer way to get a good picture of your actual level. Assessing the level of a new student is also the first thing I do when they join The High Road to Fluency.
However, in the spirit of DIY of this article, I am sharing with you a way that you can do it on your own. While you do it, keep in mind that you will naturally tend to under evaluate yourself and try to stay objective about how well you can perform in each task.
So, since step 2, you have a list of all your 'tasks' in the chart on your worksheet. This chart also has four columns to the right. Each column correspond to a description of how well a task can be performed. Your mission is to look at each task one by one and estimate how well you can do it. Do you:
1- Have no idea how to do it at all?
2- Have a clue, but suck at it big time?
3- Can do it, but it's uncomfortable?
4- Can do it with no problem (a.k.a fluently)?
Tick the corresponding box, and then move on to the next task. Do it for every task on your list.
Step 4 - Study
After completing the first three steps, you now have a clear idea of where you are at (the current state of your task list), and where you want to go (as defined in step 1, and represented by the last column at the side right of your task list). Now all you need to do is to study French until all these check marks have moved to the right column. Easy, right?
Ok, you might still have no idea how to do it, and maybe you're even scared by the amount of work to do, but hang on, we're getting there.
1 - Pick the easiest task
To reach fluency, you need to make progress in each task you have listed. Get started with what seems the easiest to you, for whatever reason. Maybe "order coffee" is the easiest for you because you know almost all the words and you just need to learn to speak more confidently in this setting. Or maybe "write an email to person X about project X" is the easiest because you do it almost every week and all you need is to brush up a few grammar points so you can stop second guessing yourself and do it faster. Or maybe you are a complete beginner and the easiest would be to learn how to say "hello", which means pronounce "bonjour" correctly, because all the rest sounds way too difficult. Whatever it may be, pick the least scary task of your list and dedicate your first study session to it.
2 - One study session = one task
The key to progressing quickly is to take one small step at a time, and do it regularly. The more often, the better. I recommend at least two focussed study sessions per week. When you sit to study, you need to have a very clear idea of what you are working on, and what should be the outcome of your study session.
What you are working on = a task from your list
The outcome of your study session = you can perform the task better after the study session than before, and you can move your checkmark towards the right side of the chart for this task.
- Start with the easiest task and focus on it until you can feel some progress.
- Strive to complete your task successfully. If your task is to order coffee, completing it successfully means you actually get coffee, ideally the type of coffee you wanted. Anything else is irrelevant.
- Celebrate every bit of progress you can see.
- Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can't do.
- Worry about the tasks which seems too difficult for you right now. Remember that they will become easier as your study progress. Or rather, they won't get easier, but you'll get better at French, so they'll look easier to you then.
- Try to use perfect grammar or the best possible vocabulary or pronounce everything perfectly. What you want is coffee, not a job at the Académie Française ;)
- Work on more than one task at once, even if they seem related. New vocabulary and new grammar can become overwhelming quickly so it's important to stay focussed. Learn to order coffee now. Learn to order a full meal later.
- Expect to become perfect at your task after one study session. It's enough that you can move the checkmark to the next column. It doesn't have to jump to the last column yet. Remember that you can always come back and brush this task up later.
3 - Progress in your study, one session at a time.
Each task you progress on gets you one step closer to completing the other tasks on your list. When you have made some progress on your easiest task, it's time to tackle the second easiest task. Keep going, one task at a time.
You can spend more than one study session on one task, if one session isn't enough for you to master the task. You can also decide to return to a task which you have studied before, if you feel that you will be able to progress on it more this time.
Studying a language typically involves a lot of going back and forth. It isn't a linear process. It can actually feel quite messy and even disheartening. However I can promise you that if you study consistently and you work on getting better at completing the tasks on your list, you will become fluent.
I understand that this can be overwhelming or even intimidating. The good news is, you don't have to do it alone! If you would like me to help you on this journey, please check out my one-on-one coaching program The High Road to Fluency.
Step 5 - Reassess regularly
From time to time, you need to go back to your fluency worksheet, read your task list again and reassess your current level. Often, working on a task will increase your level in several other tasks, so it is good to read over the list and update your checkmarks so they keep reflecting your current level.
Here is an extra tip for you: keep a copy of your previous list so you can see all the progress you've made. Or, if you have printed the worksheet, keep your old checkmarks and use a different color to reflect your new level. This will help you see all the progress you've made and keep you motivated.
I like to stay very organized with my goals, so I wrote the ebook SMARTER language goals to help my students create goals for their study which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound, which they will also Evaluate and Readjust. If you feel that your study is a little bit too messy and you would enjoy a more controlled approach, I definitely recommend the ebook SMARTER language goals to you.
Step 6 - Keep learning
One of the main keys to success in pretty much anything is to stick to it. I have written a whole article on how to be consistent, so I won't dive deep into this topic here.
Keep in mind that becoming fluent will take several months at least. People who have learned a second language as adults (like, for example, me) have done so by studying for months or years. You are in this for the long run so it is important that you enjoy it. Here is an article on how to learn French with your five senses which will help you bring more fun to your study.
Also, remember that students who add some French in their life outside of their study time progress up to five times faster than those who don't. If you don't know how to do this, this article will get you started.
Afraid you have no time to do all this? Great news, everybody can find the time, if they know how. Check out this free workshop to start reclaiming your time right now and this ecourse for a bullet proof process to tame your study and fit it into your busy schedule.