Sorry to hate on Duolingo in the title of this article. I think it’s a lovely app, but it just doesn't work for me long-term. It’s really great that I’ve learned to say “I am a woman” in about six languages that I’ve started and abandoned on there, but I’m never successful using something that requires me to be on my phone even more. It doesn’t fit into my language process.
Like so many things, learning a language is a process. We can’t race to the finish line, because 1) there isn’t one, and 2) we’ll get tired and give up. You have to love the process. And if you don’t, you have to at least want to love the process. I usually love my own process the most when I’m seamlessly incorporating French things into my normal life.
So what exactly is “the process?’ It varies for everyone, so cater to your own habits and adapt. Here is my biggest advice for creating your process; it’s pretty straightforward. Find different ways to do all of the things you normally do.
Here are 6 suggestions to get you started.*
- Change the language on your phone to the language you are trying to learn. (This is also called your target language or TL). This is such an obvious, yet overlooked way to get better at a language. We perform so many tasks robotically on our phones, so this is a great way to turn a mindless task/scroll into something constructive. When you change the language (Setting→ General → Language & Region), most apps will switch into your TL if they exist in that language. Accuweather, Snapchat, Instagram, Clock/Alarm, Google Maps, and Spotify are just a few of my favorites to have in French. If this is too big of an undertaking for the stage you’re at in your language, try it one day a week and go from there. It only takes about a minute to switch it.
- Switch your favorite websites into their TL counterparts. For me, this means using google.fr and reddit.fr, instead of the .com versions. I especially love the French Reddit, because I can join conversations with people about things I care about. When I’m not sure if a website has a French version, I just test it out by typing the website and adding .fr. More often than not, they have it in French.
Find Instagrammers and YouTubers who produce content you care about in your TL. I especially love watching their daily IG stories. There is constantly new content, and it’s stuff I’m interested in hearing about. I follow a lot of French beauty bloggers, photographers, and food bloggers.
Read aloud in your TL every morning. I read in French for about five minutes right when I wake up every morning, to “warm-up” my French brain. I don’t want to run into a colleague on the train, be caught off guard, and stammer my way through a polite conversation. I want to be warmed up, and ready to sound like a native-ish speaker. While most of you won’t be running into colleagues who will address you in your TL, it merits practicing reading and talking to yourself, just for pronunciation and conversation practice.
Join or create a happy hour conversation group in your TL. You probably already go to happy hour, and most people get more confident speaking another language after a drink. In most cities, these groups are pretty easy to find, especially if the language you’re learning is a common one. If there isn’t a group for your language yet, create your own! At first, it might mean you drinking a beer alone and talking out loud to yourself. That’s fine. Market it everywhere you can (especially at local universities), and you’ll have a few people to chat with in no time.
Learn idiomatic expressions intentionally. When you find yourself using an idiomatic expression, jot it down and look for the equivalent in your TL. (I use Word Reference.) These are so, so fun! When I taught French at Virginia Tech, sometimes I gave my class an idiom and they would have to guess the meaning based on their translation of the literal words. It makes learning vocab so much more fun, and they make you feel really cool. I also follow @frenchwords on Instagram, which very regularly shares idioms. Try and find a similar account for your TL.
My suggestions are all about doing things you would normally do in clever-er ways. And, understanding that it’s going to take more effort to do so, but is beneficial to you. So, get yourself a base, and change your habits. While most of these suggestions do not involve you producing speech, they do incorporate a lot of activities that bring native speakers into your daily routine. That can only help you!
Happy language learning! If you try any of these suggestions, please comment or screenshot and share! I’d love to hear how they’re working out for you, which tip is your favorite, and hear your own tips.
*This article assumes you already have at least a base knowledge of your language. If you don't have a base yet, absolutely commit to creating a strong one. This means enrolling in a formal, in person class, or finding a tutor to get you going. Take it seriously, and find someone to hold you accountable. Or, better yet, sign up for a class with a few friends! Some people can learn just by immersing themselves in movies and music; this was NOT the case for me, so it's not what I recommend!