If you’re reading this, perhaps you’ve at least thought about learning la langue française. But the act of speaking French can be quite different in practice than in theory! As a French teacher and a FLE (français langue étrangère) speaker myself, I often see firsthand the difficulties common to new speakers of French. How do I pronounce those r’s? And those weird u’s? And most of all: What if I sound ridiculous?
Fear not, because honestly, sounding ridiculous is all part of the fun. And whatever your self-consciousness level when faced with speaking French, there are many ways to surmount insecurities. Check out these pointers, and prepare to parler sans inhibitions!
1. Have a glass of wine. Assuming you do indeed have inhibitions about speaking French off the cuff (and many of us do!), this ought to help you loosen up and produce some good mots. Sure, French is filled with different sounds from English, but a few sips in, they won’t seem nearly as daunting to try. (Note: moderation is key. You still want to be understood, after all.)
2. Get French in your oreille by listening to podcasts. This can do some excellent French maintenance work in your brain — even while you sleep! When I was learning French, I’d leave podcasts on at night and wake feeling way more linguistically solid. Of course, being awake and listening is even better. I recommend News in Slow French for beginners, and the various streams of Radio France for more advanced speakers (or those who just want full-speed French in their ears).
3. Sing along to French songs. You can do it where no one can hear you (the car, the shower), or if you’re feeling truly brave, try with a buddy at a karaoke bar! This method allows you to get comfy with French while being silly and having fun; plus, you have the song’s original singer as your pronunciation guide. (For some catchy tune ideas, see my article on French songs.) Pro tip: watch a YouTube lyric video and sing along! That way, you get the spelling and the pronunciation.
4. Conversation sessions with a native or fluent speaker. This method is perhaps the most helpful of all. But, a word to the wise: to get the full benefit, make sure you do a good share of the talking in these convos, rather than letting the teacher do it all for you. La conversation is, after all, a two-way street.
5. Read aloud! Like singing, this is a great way to wrap your mouth around French. And again, it’s more fun with a partner. One fun way is to pick a French comic book and “play” a couple of the characters. It’ll not only help your French, it’ll help you speak with that theatrical French attitude!
In the end, the main secret for “producing” good French is to ditch your embarrassment. Once you do, you’ll be able to sing, speak, screw up (as is necessary!) with the best of them. Let’s face it, what better way to reinforce a nouvelle langue? Go forth — and bonne chance!