How to Get Your Brain Thinking in French

There are lots of reasons you might want to train your brain to think in French. Maybe you’re preparing for an upcoming trip to a Francophone country. Maybe you need to refresh your language skills after time away. Or maybe you simply want to up your French game for fun. Whatever the reason, here are a few enjoyable and immersive ways to get your brain working en français.

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French-language podcasts
Podcasts are a simple (and free!), consistently streaming source of French, and there are many to choose from. When my ear is missing French sounds, I tend to turn to the France Culture podcasts; sometimes I even leave it on while I sleep, and I wake up feeling more Francophone in the morning. For beginners, I recommend the News in Slow French podcast (though, be warned, no native Francophone actually speaks slowly!).

French lessons online
Here I can do no better than recommend the fifty-two streaming episodes of French in Action, the wonderfully ’80s edu-tational French series developed by professors at Yale. Set in Paris, it follows the adventures and potential romance of Parisian Mireille and American Robert. These stories are interspersed with visits to the classroom of wild-haired, genial Professor Pierre Capretz, who created the series. You owe it to yourself to watch.

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French TV commercials
Commercials are good for more than just selling you stuff; they also can teach you a new language! They’re fun, manageably-sized, and—best of all—the words spoken are sometimes also printed onscreen, so you can see and hear them at the same time. Since I like vintage things, I recommend this compilation of old French commercials on YouTube. (Fair warning: old commercials = occasional antiquated attitudes therein.)

A conversation partner
If you have the opportunity, a conversation partner can really help you get your French-speaking (and, therefore, French-thinking) skills up to par. If a suitable partner isn’t nearby, arrange sessions with someone over Skype or FaceTime. It’s a great way to get used to the speed, cadence and other particulars of the language while being an active participant (one element missing from everything else on this list!). Also worth noting: if you’re short on cash, some teachers may even be willing to join you in a language barter.

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Francophone comics
A theme of this list has been that pictures and words work in tandem to teach language, and comics are perhaps the ultimate example of that. I began learning French as a child by reading French-language comics such as Astérix and Tintin, the advantage being that I could read the English-language versions alongside. Pretty soon, with enough such readings under your belt, you’ll be able to graduate to the French versions alone. It’s a wonderful way to learn the language through larger-than-life situations and characters.

And don’t forget about the basics—French books, television, movies, and music! Any combination of the above, if adhered to faithfully, should get your brain thinking in French in no time. Amusez-vous bien!