There comes a time for all language learners when we finally visit or live in France, and experience a brief jolt of euphoria, as we realize that we don’t completely suck at French anymore. Our accents are slightly less horrendous, we can kind of eavesdrop on random people’s conversations on the métro, and ordering food en français is no longer a debacle. But back in the States, that elation can quickly morph into despair as our bonjours transform into bonj-whats and our language skills slither back into the the recesses of our brains. Don’t let your French skills—and your pride—erode just because you live in the USA. Heed these 8 pieces of advice to maintain your language skills and retain the ability to keep up with fast-talking Parisian waiters.
Carrying around French literature has two major benefits: one, your reading comprehension skills will skyrocket, and two, you’ll seem worldly and sophisticated to all who notice. If you want to ease back into things, try books with simple prose like Dominique Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse and Un Certain Sourire, or all works from the prolific and popular Amélie Nothomb. Another fun exercise is to take a favorite book that you’ve read countless times and try reading and comparing the language in French vs. English. New York-based Francophiles are in luck, as the Upper East Side’s Albertine is a French bookstore, and Soho’s McNally Jackson also has a solid French lit corner.
If you want an easy way to practice French on the go, download podcasts and listen on your commute or when you have a few minutes. BuzzFeed France compiled a list of their community’s favorite podcasts here.
There are a ton of language schools and classes that are ideal not just for beginners, but also for those looking to maintain a high level of proficiency. The Alliance Française, whose mission is to promote the French language and Francophone culture, was founded in 1883 and has over 100 clubs just in the U.S. If you want to brush up on your grammar skills, they have classes, or if you want a conversation group to grow/maintain/enhance your speaking abilities, you’re also in luck!
There’s no better way to improve oral comprehension skills than to watch French programs. Netflix has a ton of French movies and TV shows, and public library systems like NYPL offer free streaming services such as Kanopy that offer up a wonderful array of old and new cinema.
Language classes and guided discussion groups are great for those who want instruction, but conversation groups with fellow language learners are a terrific less structured alternative. Websites such as Meetup offer a platform for Francophiles and Francophones to find each other, while Conversationexchange promotes one-on-one language exchanges.
If you want to re-immerse yourself in the French language and lifestyle, find French expats and convince them to hire you. And we’re not talking about Le Pain Quotidien or Au Bon Pain where the cashiers sadly don’t know a croissant from a pain au chocolat (they’ve only heard of cruh-sahnts and chocolate cruh-sahnts). Head to neighborhood spots started by, run by, and frequented by actual French people.
Instead of starting your day with a few updates from the Times, listen to RFI for 20 minutes each morning or read articles from Le Monde. If you find that Le Monde is a bit too cerebral to go with your 8 AM coffee, try Le Parisien for an easier read.
Writing is an oft neglected language skill once learners leave formal classroom settings. Journaling will force you to remember spelling, correct word choice, and those dreaded conjugations. If possible, have a native speaker (preferably a friend so you don’t have to censor yourself) correct your work, and if you’re consistent, you’ll have a detailed French record of your life and writing skills progress!