I love France. Yes, I visited Paris when I was 21 years old, and I was so impressed that I fell in love with Paris, France, and its culture.
I also love communication.
I adore speaking in public, communicate ideas, listen to other people, writing… Communication as a whole concept.
Languages are a crucial element, talking about communication.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
— Nelson Mandela
Apart from Mandela’s brilliant quote, I’ve always felt attracted by other languages and cultures.
I’m Spanish, and my second language has always been English.
This article’s goal aims at how to learn french by yourself with no idea at all
I’d have liked to have a guide like this when I decided to learn French because starting a language from scratch is quite tricky. I didn’t know where to start from.
My starting point in French was this. I only knew these 2 words:
- Oui. I thought it was written like “we”.
So, “basic level” was far away from my starting point.
I started learning French in December 2019, so I will describe all my journey for a whole year.
This article’s structure is based on these 4 points:
- Some initial concepts I think they’re essential to learn any language.
- Steps I followed. I followed them sequentially because they increase the difficulty little by little, to make the learning process easy to digest.
- My daily routine. I will describe my daily routine to keep on learning and improving.
- Takeaways. Finally, I’ll leave some comments about my experience that I think can be useful.
1. INITIAL CONCEPTS
Before starting to learn French, I talked to myself these 6 essential concepts:
1.1 Concept 1: Learning a language is not easy
I always laugh when I see ads saying things like “Learn this language in 1 month”.
A language is something quite difficult.
I’m 44. I’ve been learning, studying, and practicing English for my whole life, and I still consider it’s difficult to keep on improving. Starting a language from scratch is everything but easy.
This thought prepared my mindset to work. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy the journey.
People usually associate work with concepts such as hard, tough, sacrifice, pain… and so forth.
For me, work just means dedicating time to a topic, subject, or thing. As easy as that.
1.2 Concept 2: Why’s
This is kind of cliché, but it’s true.
I need a strong why to make things in life, and learning a language isn’t an exception.
This is so because human beings need to make things based on common sense. If something doesn’t make sense for me, sooner or later, I will leave it.
It’s by having a strong “why” how I get the fuel, the motivation, the reasons I need to dedicate my energy to a thing I want to perform.
In my case, I had a lot of “why’s”. Here I share some of them:
- I admire French culture: gastronomy, fashion, architecture, History, economy, enterprises…
- I love how it sounds.
- Being trilingual motivates me a lot. It means for me a huge step forward talking about personal growth.
- It is supposed that more than 200 million people speak French all over the world. Wouldn’t it be great to communicate with them in their own language to go “directly to their hearts”?
- My father speaks French, and whenever he can practice it with someone, he does. It would be great for me to be “in” the conversation.
- A language is much more than translating something. It structures my brain to new constructions, new ways to see life, and communication. It goes much more further than people may think.
1.3 Concept 3: I was prepared to invest (time and money)
I think learning a language is an investment for my most important asset: myself.
Because of that, I was ready to invest both: time and money.
Investing money is what saves me money.
I do appreciate my time a lot. It’s my main asset because I cannot make up for the lost time.
There’s a lot of free content out there but, in my opinion, nothing’s better than the paid one:
- It is easier to learn because it’s created thinking about teaching.
- It is a faster way to learn because it saves me a lot of time.
1.4 Concept 4: I was prepared to live the language every day
In my opinion, to really learn a language, I have to be in touch with it every day.
It’s the way my brain never stops thinking in that language.
It’s the way I make an immersion in that language.
Doing so is how I feel much and much comfortable with the language, making it an extension of my mind, body, and myself.
1.5 Concept 5: I was prepared to combine everything: writing, reading, listening, and speaking
The best way to get hooked on a language and really get into it is to interact with it in every possible way: writing, reading, listening, and speaking.
If I do so, I start receiving inputs in such many ways that it is impossible for my brain not to learn the language.
Introducing information and data into the brain through different pathways is what causes concepts to be memorized, learned, and passed on to the “much-loved” long-term memory.
1.6 Concept 6: The main goal: create a solid foundation
The last initial concept for me to understand and assimilate is to have a clear vision of my FIRST BIG GOAL when I begin from scratch.
Having that clear in my mind is what drives me to that 80–20 Pareto Principle, just focusing on the 20% I need to learn because it’s used 80% of the time.
My BIG GOAL was to create a solid foundation from which I could move forward to keep on improving, being able to forget about these more conventional and traditional initial methods, and dedicating time to really enjoy my new language:
- Listening to podcasts,
- reading books,
- watching movies,
- and “navigating” really deep into the language.
2. STEPS I FOLLOWED
Here, I will share the steps I followed and all the sources I took on the Internet.
It’s more or less a sequential process, although, I executed some of them in parallel.
2.1 Step 1: Course “French Uncovered, by I will teach you a language”
This is the first step I took to learn French from scratch.
I have to say I’m a believer in natural learning, talking about languages. I mean, I don’t believe in:
- Creating lists of vocabulary on paper and trying to memorize them.
- Creating lists of verbs and conjugations and trying to memorize them.
- Focusing 100% on learning grammar rules, trying to memorize them.
That doesn’t mean not learning basic grammar rules.
As an adult, I have a huge advantage over kids. I have learned and polished my native language. Because of that, I try to use all my “learned rules” to look for similar patterns in my new language. It’s not a sin. It’s just pragmatism.
The perfect combination I found out between natural learning and “the lowest level of traditional learning methods”, taking the best of the two worlds, was Olly Richard’s course “French Uncovered”.
I have to say that was my first big step to start feeling I was doing the right thing.
When I finished that course, I had a minimum level to keep on creating my basic initial solid foundation.
2.2 Step 2: Course “Build a strong core, by Inner French”
My second big step was joining Hugo’s French course “Build a strong core”.
As its name says, Hugo’s right. I was creating a solid foundation, a strong core, and this course gave me a step forward after Olly’s.
When I finished this course, I thought, “Oh, yeah, now I know French!”.
I was stupid: I didn’t at all.
2.3 Step 3: Course “Grammar Hero, by I will teach you a language”
I could have done this course after “French Uncovered”, but something I’ve learned about learning a language is that dynamism is essential.
Changing from one teacher to another, from one user interface to another, from one concept of learning to another, gives me that motivation, that “new sensation” I need to keep maintaining my pace, my “way to success”.
I enjoyed that change from Olly to Hugo. Whenever I came back to Olly again, it was like a “fresh start”.
This course was much more interesting because I learned through different stories (not just one, as it happened with the “French Uncovered” course). That means, again, dynamism, avoiding routine, and getting hooked on the different stories.
The good point about this course is that I was getting into reading and listening to French, just learning a couple of grammar hacks after each story. That made the learning process really easy to digest.
2.4 Step 4: Course “MosaLingua series, by MosaLingua”
MosaLingua is a fantastic software to memorize words and expressions using spaced repetition.
I use it to record all types of words, expressions, and everything I want to learn. It works. Period.
At the same time, MosaLingua has courses, for example, MosaLingua series, recorded stories with transcripts.
I learned a lot with them!
2.5 Step 5: Podcasts
I have to say that I started listening to podcasts from day 1.
Listening, listening, and listening is a key element to learn a language.
There was one day in which I started listening effortlessly, without feeling I was listening to a language that wasn’t my native language.
It was listening and looking for podcasts how I found out most of these courses and language geniuses.
Podcasts are a vital element, not only to learn languages but for my whole life (at least, for mine) because they allow me to learn during my “dead time”. For instance, commutes.
I spend commuting 1 hour each day.
If I just multiply 1 hour by 5 days, by 5 weeks, I get as a result 260 hours listening to French in 1 year (and that only in my commutes!).
Here I share the most interesting (and useful) FREE podcasts I listen to.
Having all these podcasts in my hands keeps giving me that dynamism (escape from routine), changing from one to another to keep the right and continuous pace.
- 2.5.1 Coffee Break French
Amazing to start learning and going deeper into the language to any level I want to. I never bought their courses, but I do think they should be great.
- 2.5.2 Français Authentique
Here I found a gold mine. Johan’s a fantastic teacher, and I do recommend subscribing to his free YouTube channel (1 million subscribers!) because I don’t know how much French I learned just watching his videos. To express my gratitude (I felt indebted to him), I bought some of Johan’s courses/services that I will describe later on.
- 2.5.3. OuiPodcast
Real conversations between 2 people about topics I chat about in my daily life. I do really recommend it. While shaving, this is what I listen to every day.
- 2.5.4 Learn French by Podcast
Conversations, stories, explanations… All in one. Really useful too.
2.6 Step 6: Italki
This is the eternal discussion: when should I start speaking and having a teacher?
From my perspective, starting a language from scratch, I prefer doing a lot of work by myself before trying to speak and hire a teacher.
In my case, I started my first class with a teacher in June, almost 7 months later since I started.
Was it the right timing? Who knows… That also depends on the quality of the teacher.
In Italki, I could find all kinds of teachers, prices, levels, languages, and whatever I may think.
I have to say that when I started trying to speak, it was challenging and tough. I had 30-minute lessons, and they seemed to be 3 hours. My brain was totally collapsed.
2.7 Step 7: Course “Raconte ton histoire, by Inner French”
I had enjoyed so much Hugo’s “Build a strong core” course that I decided to go to the next level.
What happened? Too hard and difficult for me. I failed…
I decided to leave it, to try it later, whenever my level was a little bit better.
As usually happens with these kinds of decisions, I never came back…
2.8 Step 8: L’académie, by Français Authentique
As I said before, when I met Johan, I got impressed by the huge amount of content he’s created.
It’s impressive, and I joined his community.
It’s great because:
- There are a lot of other students.
- I can be “in touch” with the language 24 hours because there are always people showing up.
- I also have videos and transcripts with many different topics, stories, and so forth.
I also joined Johan’s pronunciation course. Not bad, but, sincerely, I could have skipped it and better go to the next level: a teacher (especially, a good teacher).
2.9 Step 9: Impolyglot
Once again, I met Lionel through his podcast, and by visiting his website.
This was an inflection point in my learning process.
Why was that?
- First, Lionel is a fantastic teacher who prepares each class with a clear goal.
- He tries to create a methodology in which I interact with the language in very different ways.
- He has a virtual classroom in which I have tons of exercises.
- He’s French, but he also speaks and teaches English and Spanish. That’s great for me because I can take many shortcuts to learn, understand, and memorize things using the 3 languages.
- He’s pragmatic, like me…
I just spend 1 hour each week, but that’s a lot to keep improving, getting better, and feeling that sense of evolution any pupil needs in his life.
3. MY DAILY ROUTINE
One year later, this is the routine I follow to improve day by day, with no rush, but without stopping.
- Every day, I listen to Ouipodcast while shaving.
- Every day, I listen to podcasts during my commute (1 hour each day). I’ve joined more podcasts, now directly French podcasts I like to listen to. For example, Transfert. That’s real French. The day I understand 80%-90% of those podcasts, I will say “I know French” because those are “real French people speaking real French”.
- Every day, I write an email to Lionel, which he sends back to me with corrections. I write down the corrections and insert them into MosaLingua.
- Every day, I practice for 10 minutes using MosaLingua.
- Every week, I have a 1-hour class with Lionel.
- Every day, I practice reading using Twitter (I follow people or users I’m interested in).
- During the weekends, I try to read the press, articles, or any book chapter.
As I wanted, it’s a routine that doesn’t destroy my schedule.
It’s easy to follow and flexible because everything depends on me except for Lionel’s class. And that’s great.
My agenda is not easy, so I had to find a system compatible with my real life.
Learning a language is not easy, but it’s an amazing journey in which I don’t only learn the language:
- I learn about other cultures.
- I understand how other people think.
- I see how a language works and, although it’s not easy to believe it, that improves my own native language.
- I drive my brain to limits “he” didn’t know. That effort is good for “him”.
- I meet a lot of other people.
- I’m converting myself into a “citizen of the world” because languages open millions of doors that were shut before.
I could keep on listing things all day long…
What level am I now?
- Listening. If I listen to “learning podcasts” such as those I listed above, I understand 80%-90%. Those guys speak very clear, and they’re pretty easy to follow. If I listen to French podcasts, it’s much harder. Maybe I understand 40%? Maybe. It’s not easy to define a percentage. The point is that I, more or less, know what the story is about. Coming from “Merci” and “Oui” (“We”), I consider that a huge step.
- Reading. I perfectly understand what the text is saying. I have context, and that makes things much more manageable. Could I say I understand 75%? Maybe.
- Speaking. It’s hard. The point is that I can hold a 1-hour conversation with Lionel. I make mistakes many times, I get blocked because I can’t find the right word or expression to keep on the right pace but… if I compare these classes with my first ones, those 30-minute “hell ones”, there’s no comparison. Starting from scratch and, one year later, being able to speak a whole hour in French, understanding and being understood, doesn’t sound bad to me…
- Writing. It’s the most difficult point talking about French. The sound and writing have nothing in common. They have accents, verb conjugations… It’s not an easy language talking about writing. Not even for natives! I’m not afraid. It’s just a matter of time.
- Now I have that solid foundation from where I can keep on constructing “my building”.
It will be a wonderful year, and my goal (and Lionel’s) is to be fluent in December. That will mean 2 years working every day on a language.
The point is I don’t care. I’m not in a hurry.
I’ve converted this into a way of living, the point in which a habit should always be.
I can imagine, keeping this pace, how I will express myself in French within 5, 10, or 15 years from now. It motivates me a lot.
Life is not being in a hurry. It’s just enjoying the journey.