What you should know before you start learning French so that you don’t waste time
Because learning a language takes time, and because time is the most precious thing we have, if you want learn French effectively, you have to stop a moment and wonder a little about how to use time in your learning.
- So how do you find time to learn French better?
- How to avoid wasting time by using good French content?
- How to optimize your French time in a busy life?
- How to reinvent time to learn French with pleasure?
You get it, you know it: your time is valuable! So let’s start now.
outline of the article
- Be sure that learning French is a priority
- What is your level in French?
- What is your goal in learning French?
- Optimize your French time
- Make a French appointment between just you and your agenda
- Start with only 20% of French
- Double your time to learn French
- By learning French, take back your lost time
- Do the things you love, but in French !
1. Be sure that learning French is a priority
The first thing to do before starting time management in order to learn French is to confront yourself. You can read the rest of this article and apply one piece of advice and a trick here and there to save time, but it will be useless if you haven’t set your priorities.
So the question to ask yourself is: is learning French now a priority for me?
If it is, it means that you are ready to sacrifice a few moments of relaxation (the kind of moments that do nothing more than clear your head in front of a TV, computer or smartphone screen).
If this is the case, you have decided to devote time to learning French, which will become more important than other times (perhaps spending less time in your kitchen or in the shower, spending less time at the table or in your bed).
If this is so, you are able to politely say no to a family member who comes asking for your attention at a time that you want to spend learning French; you will be able to say no to friends or colleagues who for the umpteenth time want to take you for a drink in town.
If you really want to learn French, and your goal is to be able to speak French, so make it a priority. By making learning French a priority, you can easily find time for learning French and for having good French input.
Make French your priority (or one of your priorities) and you will be amazed at how much time you will devote to French.
2. What is your level?
Before you start learning French, it is important to know exactly where you are starting from. On the learning line, are you really at the starting point (zero knowledge of French, a very vague idea of what the language might be like, barely two or three known words – bonjour, merci, au revoir…)? Or have you already started (but the race has barely begun)? Or have you already done a good part of the race?
Knowing your level is essential to avoid two pitfalls: not having realistic objectives and using the wrong tools, methods or contents. I will return to the objectives in the next paragraph. Let’s look quickly at the other problem.
If you want to learn French using the wrong tools, the wrong methods, or content that is not adapted to your situation, you will waste time. With tools/methods/content corresponding to a level that is too simple, you will not learn anything and you will end up bored. With tools/methods/content that is too difficult, you will quickly get discouraged.
Look for the ‘L+1’ level
To avoid this, you need to be clear about your level. Once you have an idea of your level, you can look for content that corresponds to your level to reinforce your knowledge of French, but also content that offers ‘L+1’. That is to say, ‘L’ content that you are more or less familiar with, and ‘+1’ content that consists of something new or a little more difficult. So you will move forward. If you start from scratch, you have to find the content that offers you ‘0+1’: you will start with the first words and sentences; and then you can go further.
Knowing your level, you can also consciously look for the method/tool that suits you best. This choice should be made according to your learning preferences. If you are a beginner and tend to learn better with visual stimuli, then it would be absurd to take a grammar book and do exercises on a complicated French tense; it would be better to use the contents of the Français illustré.
To find out your level, there are many online tests on the internet. Just type in “test of level in French” or « what is my level in French », and once you have found a test, answer the questions and you can get an idea of your level corresponding to a general consensus. Take two tests to see if there are differences or not. If so, you may be in between.
3. What is your goal?
Now that you know where you are, you have to decide where you want to go. In other words, you need to set a goal. What is your objective with French?
If your goal is to be able to speak everyday French…
- … it may not be really useful to spend hours in a grammar book, even one with exercises,
- … it may not be necessary to spend a lot of time reading French adaptations of literary classics.
But it would be more useful to learn the most common key French phrases in the most common situations. And it would be more useful to be able to practice these phrases in conversation classes, perhaps online.
Then – and even if your long-term goal is to be able to speak French fluently – it is important to have concrete short-term goals, goals that you can measure over time and in terms of the amount you learn. For example, for content: the 100 most common key phrases for a first conversation (getting to know someone); and for competence: speaking; and for duration: 3 months (if you have time), 6 months (if you have less time).
Have a clear idea of your goals, this will allow you to choose the right learning methods and the right content. For example, the content of the Français illustré’s videos for the most common French phrases, and one-to-one online conversation classes to make the most of the practice sessions and feedback from a French teacher.
You have understood the message: by having a clear, realistic and time-bound objective, you will be able to maximize this learning time.
4. Optimize your French time
Optimize your French time, part one.
What do I mean by ‘optimizing your time’? Making sure that the time you spend on an activity is used efficiently: without wasting time, without lengthening it, without being distracted, with a good focus, with a better learning performance. To optimize your time, you have to listen to yourself! At what time of the day are you at your best, in terms of attention, concentration?
If you are tired at the end of the day, it may be difficult to learn French, you may spend time for a result that is not always satisfactory. But if you find the best time, the one that suits you, during which you are at your best, then you will be able to learn a lot in less time, and you will certainly retain it better. Better a quarter of an hour of concentrated learning than an hour when your mind is asleep or skips school.
5. Make a French appointment between just you and your agenda
Optimize your French time, part two.
Once you know when the best time to learn is for you, it can be useful to plan your week to block out this valuable time (if possible, of course, but remember… what are your priorities?). Make an appointment with yourself. Just yourself: that means make it clear to your partner, your children, your parents, your friends that you are not available for them, but only for your French.
Avoid distractions. If you don’t need your smartphone for your French learning time, put your device in another room. If you are sensitive to distracting sounds, find a place in your home for quiet learning, and possibly use noise-cancelling headphones
And also plan what you are going to do, to learn, to train in order to match your learning objective and also so that you don’t waste time hesitating and looking for things to do to learn French.
All these tips are very simple – mostly to say, less to do-, but they are effective, and that’s the point.
6. Start with only 20% of French
One of the ways to save time in learning French… is to choose exactly what you are going to learn. You probably know the Pareto’s law? Otherwise known as the 20/80 law? To put it very simply, often 20% of your actions are responsible for 80% of your results. The difficulty is to know what that 20% should be. In learning a language at beginner level, it is not too complicated to establish this 20%.
For vocabulary: What are the most frequent words in French ? Or which French words are really useful to learn when you are a beginner. If you have to go to a hotel in France, do you have to learn all the bathroom vocabulary, in case there might be a problem with a tap? No, of course not, the bare minimum is enough: the words you might need the most: « eau chaude, savon, serviette de toilette ». And you may not even learn these words, but look them up in a dictionary if the water is cold, if there is no soap, or towel: the most important thing to know is the basic structure of French sentences and to use the words found in the dictionary in these structures.
You can also put the 20/80 law in place with grammar. If your goal is to have a simple conversation with a French speaker on topics that concern him/her (or you), it may not be necessary to learn the conjugation of all forms of a verb (with: je, tu, il/elle/on, nous, vous, ils/elles), but only ‘je’ (I) and ‘tu’ (you) or ‘vous’ (you) if you choose formal politeness.
So, to save time: prioritize what you want to learn according to your objectives.
7. Double your time to learn French
Sometimes, even if it’s incredible, you can live two lives at the same time. The life of someone who takes care of their house or their fitness, and at the same time, the life of someone who is learning French.
But of course, in order for these two things to be done correctly, the first thing must not require much attention (a fairly repetitive manual activity, for example) so that you can concentrate a little more on the second thing. And this second thing can be French…
For example: You go for a walk (essential physical exercise) and you listen to French songs. You peel potatoes and you watch a series in French. You do some ironing and repeat French phrases from an audio file. You do the dishes and listen to a podcast for learning French.
This does not contradict the previous points about optimizing your time. Besides the times when you are going to do only one thing with great concentration (learning vocabulary or reading a French text), it is also essential to increase the amount of input. So doing two things at the same time in this way is really very convenient.
This is called using hidden time. Look for that hidden time in your days at home, and use it doubly by listening to podcasts. There are many podcasts specifically designed for learners of French (such as the Français illustré podcast). Take advantage of this and live two lives simultaneously.
8. By learning French, take back your lost time
A boring waiting room at the dentist, an endless journey in the metro, bus or train, an irritating queue in a supermarket because of a problem with a customer: these are indeed wasted time, but only if you do nothing. Of course, at best, you can use these waiting moments to look at a poster on dental hygiene, to leaf through a travel magazine or to read the composition of cereals on their packaging. And at worst, it’s really a waste of time. So, be smart: use this lost time to learn French.
Take back control of your own time. One of the best ways to gain time to devote to French is to regain the time you lose elsewhere. Sometimes you have no choice but to wait. And this time is generally lost. Look in your everyday life for the moments when you have to wait. And don’t forget: your time is the most precious thing you have. So you might as well use it fully.
More than five minutes? Then have the reflex to do something with French, about French, for your French. What to do? Think for a moment and you will easily find something to do and how to do it. With a book, a notebook, a smartphone, you have plenty of possibilities to fill this waiting time, short or long.
You can therefore buy (or borrow from the library) books in easy French that correspond to your level. So always carry a vocabulary notebook with your own lists in your pocket and review. You can also use an application on your smartphone to learn words and phrases. Calculate how much time you spend on your French vocabulary this way, and you’ll be surprised at how much extra learning time you get.
9. Do the things you love, but in French !
Of course we all want to have more time to do more things. Of course you want to have more time to work on your French a bit more. But three things are certain: there are only 24 hours in a day, we don’t want to suffer in those 24 hours and you definitely don’t want to give up all your free time and relaxation (even if you have made priorities, like learning French). So, my tip for having more time to devote to French is quite simple (and I’m sure many of you are doing it, consciously or not): do what you like… but in French.
Some of you may say to me : If you watch a film in French, you may feel like you’re not learning a vocabulary list or a grammar rule, and therefore not learning French (in the traditional way). Yes, but you will be in contact with the French language, and that’s really very important. The more French input you have, the better and faster you will acquire French.
Relax in French
Do you like listening to songs? Perfect! Listen to songs in French! Do you watch series every day on TV or on streaming platforms? Fantastic! Watch French series or series in French! Do you always have the radio on in your kitchen? No problem! Find programs in French. Well, okay, not always easy with a traditional radio, but with your smartphone, you can listen to all the French radio stations thanks to the internet. If you watch videos on Youtube about your hobby, such as gardening, cooking, cycling, etc., try videos from French-speaking youtubers on the same subject.
More complicated, but not impossible! You love walking in the parks of your city or in the woods. Put an ad on a Facebook group of your city and ask if there is a French-speaking person who would be willing to walk with you and speak French (or a little, depending on your level…). The idea is to do something you like and to introduce French into it. Do what you like, but in French. You will save a lot of time.
And now, what about you, your time and your French?
- Is French one of your priorities?
- Do you know exactly, realistically what your level in French is?
- Do you have a clear objective? Not only a long-term goal, but also a short-term, measurable goal?
- Have you set aside a safe time in your week to learn French?
- Are you using all the hidden time, the lost time, your free time to learn French?
If you have clear answers to the most of these questions (ideally to all of them), you are certainly in the right path to learn, to acquire French without wasting your time.
Tell me in the comments how do you manage your time to learn French?
A bientôt, Jérôme