There are plenty of ways to learn French, such as traditional classroom courses, apps like Duolingo, and listening to podcasts. But while grammar quizzes and vocabulary flashcards can teach us the basics, what we really want to do is communicate. We want to be able to make our way around Paris and Provence on our own. We want to connect with the locals and learn about life in la belle France. And for that we have to speak, which can be scary.
One of the best ways to learn to speak French is, not surprisingly, by speaking French! And for this, you need a language partner.
A French language partner is someone who speaks French and is trying to learn (in the case of Frenchly readers) English. You get together regularly and speak one language and then the other, encouraging and correcting one another.
Unlike a classroom where the opportunity to speak is limited, a meeting with a language partner gives you plenty of time to talk, listen, and ask questions. It allows you to learn not only formal French but also real-life French, with all of the slang and nuance that French people use in everyday conversation. And because you’re working with someone who is also learning a new language, you skip the usual embarrassment of navigating a new language because you are both making the same kinds of mistakes. It’s relaxed and informal and downright fun.
There are a number of websites available for finding language partners. Some popular ones are My Language Exchange, Speaky, and Conversation Exchange. The partners you find can be local, allowing you to meet face to face, or far away, in which case you might meet by video chat.
One way to find partners in your local area is through French cultural associations and expat organizations. These will include French people who have moved to the United States and are eager to improve their English. For example, San Francisco Bay Accueil has a Bay Area Buddy program designed specifically to facilitate language exchanges.
You can find such cultural and expat organizations via your nearest French consulate or through an Alliance Française language school, which is staffed by people who are plugged into the local French community.
Another good source is to contact a school that teaches English to see if it has any French-speaking students. If so, they will likely be looking for ways to improve their English.
Finally, the “asking around” method can be very effective. Check with your friends and colleagues to see if anyone knows a native French speaker, which can be another entrée into the French-speaking community in your area.
While any opportunity to speak and hear French is helpful, some are better than others. The ideal language partner is at about the same level in English that you are in French, so you are struggling with the same kinds of issues. They are someone with similar interests, so you have plenty to talk about. And they are available regularly, because your ability to improve in French will be helped a lot if you can speak it regularly and not on a once-in-a-while basis.
Most people find that 60-90 minutes is the right amount of time to spend working together. Speak in one language for half the time, then switch to the other. It is a common mistake for the French speaker to do most of the French speaking and the English speaker to do most of the English. Make sure that when the language is French, you do a lot of the talking and vice versa because speaking is where you each need the practice. Listening is something you can practice on your own with a podcast, TV show, or movie.
Finally, discuss how you’d each like to be corrected. Some people like corrections right away, while others prefer a periodic summary. We all have our learning styles so find out what works best for each of you.
So try a language partner — you’ll definitely improve your French and might even make a new friend.
Featured image: Stock Photos from Disobey Art / Shutterstock