How To Brush Up Your French
It’s never too late to build on your old school French.
When I was at school, I had a French correspondent who lived in Calais.
We visited each other during the summer holidays, sometimes at Easter, and I had the time of my life over there. I loved France, Calais, the boys and girls, even the adults!
My schoolgirl French, once a ‘C’ grade, became so good that I took French for A Level and passed it. Then life took over.
Many, many, many years later, when I was in Boulogne trying to buy a postcard, the shopkeeper roared with laughter saying, ‘Why don’t you just give up? ‘
I knew I’d hit rock bottom when I tried to speak to a French lady on the train and found I had forgotten the word for ‘car’, even though I work in the motor industry.
I remembered nostalgically how my schoolteacher used to praise my French, and how I could talk to anyone about anything in the language at the tender age of 17.
I decided that I would find myself a personal tutor, but before taking the plunge, decided to rekindle my interest.
Here is how I did it….
1. Singing in French
I memorised a poem that I learned at primary school. it had a tune to it. It went like this:
J’e me lève, je me lave,
Je me brosse les dents
Je m’habille, et je mange
un petit croissant.
Je sors, et je dis
au revoir Maman.
Au revoir Maman.
I sang it to myself. I sang it to my children. I I made up verses with other things that I do during the day. All very simple. I started to use the phrases to anyone who would listen. My husband, my friends, my work colleagues. Some of them responded in French. So I come to my next ploy….
2. French Nights
I found an English friend who also wanted to use her old, forgotten French knowledge. We decided to meet for a drink or a coffee once a week and spend an hour speaking French ONLY. It was hilarious! I never thought it would be so much fun!
At first, we struggled to last five minutes, let alone the allotted hour. But after a while we stretched to fifteen minutes, even five and twenty minutes! Sometimes we manage an hour but by then it has often degenerated into Franglais. Soon we were also texting in French. Plenty of scope there.
In no time, we graduated from just speaking to doing French cultural outings, such as the theatre or the cinema…
3. French Cinema
I decided to engage with French cinema. First, I watched French films with English subtitles. I understood a fair amount, but I found that I was mainly reading the subtitles and forgetting to engage with the French. So, I looked around for easy-to understand French films to watch without subtitles. For example, Le rayon vert (the Green Ray), which doesn’t have much speaking it!
I found a blog with a list of easy to understand French films. They are all on Netflix, and mostly on YouTube too:
1 – Gemma Bovery (2014)
2 – Kirikou et la Sorcière (1998)
3 –M. Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran (2002)
4 – La Marche de l’Empereur (2004)
5 – Potiche (2010)
6 – Rosalie Blum (2015)
7 –Alceste a Bicyclette (2013)
8 –Il y a Longtemps que Je t’Aime (2008)
You can watch these with any interested party but watching French films in French can be a solitary affair. So, seek out your family or friends, parents or grandchildren and play…
4. French Games
I love a game of Scrabble. It’s my game of choice and I will play it on a board, online, with adults, with small children, and it wasn’t long before I hit on the idea of playing in French. I already have a Spanish Scrabble set that my Dad bought me when I was doing my GCSEs. So, I brought it out, dusted it off and played French Scrabble on it.
This was fun, but not everyone likes Scrabble. There are many other games you can play in French, including Monopoly. We have a nice old game at home called ‘Mille Bornes’ (1000 miles) and I have gleaned much of my motoring vocab from this. And speaking of motoring….
5. French Waterways
Another of my hobbies is chugging down the river on a riverboat. Motoring slowly along the canals over several Summer weeks in Brittany is a great way to improve your French!
For a start, you have to speak to lock keepers (les guardiens) and they don’t normally speak English. Your boating vocabulary will blossom. As will your general social vocabulary, because you may need to buy provisions. In the small villages en route, most shopkeepers, innkeepers and other locals will expect you to speak French to them.
It doesn’t have to be by boat – any trip to France, city or countryside, will result in you needing to speak some French. And if you live in England you don’t even need to fly.
You can get there by ferry or Eurostar without increasing your carbon footprint.
When you return, why not write about your experiences in French…
6. Read French Blogs then Start Your Own!
You don’t need to be an expert in French grammar to write a French blog. Choose a topic you like and write about it in French. (Maybe I should translate this post into French!)
You could use a blog to keep track of your French prowess! Or, you could just blog about whatever you normally would, but in French. Just try it – you don’t have to publish if you don’t want to.
This constant thinking about French, writing in French and looking things up in French will definitely bear fruit. Occasionally translating English into French won’t hurt either.
So if your own French has taken a similar downward spiral, or you’ve just never quite got off the ground with it in the first place, or you would like to unlock all that sleeping vocabulary and verb knowledge lying unused in your brain, try one of the above. You may be pleasantly surprised!
Of course, once you are starting to improve, and beginning to remember some of those old grammar rules and the vast vocab that you learned at school, sign up with a personal private French tutor or learn online.
A qualified teacher can improve your confidence no end, and help you regain your skill, or foster a new one. A tutor can help convince you that you really can speak French and could even turn into a real friend.