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New to French Class? What You Should Know About Language Learning

So, you are starting French class this term? Are you excited at the prospect of learning a new language?  Nervous?  Not to worry, a great tutor can be your greatest asset in preparing to pick up a second language.  Here are a few tips for first-time language learners that will help make your experience exciting and fun!

1. Focus on learning a few key phrases and expressions to start.

Most of the time, a first unit will include introductions, greetings, and leave-takings. One advantage of learning to say "Hello" or "How are you?" in a new language is that it involves short phrases or a single word.  No confusingly long or hard to pronounce groupings of words to memorize.  Listening to your instructor and repeating will help you get to know the basics, and it also introduces you to unique sounds and pronunciations without pressure. 

2. Don't be too hard on yourself.

Making mistakes is part of learning. And, as with any new skill, learning takes time.  As a new foreign language learner, it is expected that your pronunciation will not be perfectly accented French, right at the start.  Trying is half the battle.  The key to learning to speak a second language is all about practice and repetition. Your tutor will be there by your side, helping you along the way. You are asking your teeth, tongue, and facial muscles to work together to produce sounds that may not exist in your native language at all.  Therefore, when you make a mistake, just listen and repeat again.  Ask your tutor questions about how you can form vowel sounds by holding your lips, tongue, and jaw muscles differently, and they should be able to give you specific tips and instructions. Give yourself a pat on the back-- for the little successes and, eventually, for the big wins!

3. Use flash cards.

Chances are you have used flash cards when learning new vocabulary in other classes, and they will definitely help you learn words in a second language.  Flashcards are great for use with a partner in class and outside of class, or to practice with a tutor.  You can use flashcards with images, words, phonetic spellings, and more! It is a great way to gauge your progress as you learn new words and phrases.

4. Listen and Watch

With the vast amount of international resources available online, you can easily find videos, television shows, podcasts, movies, and blogs about French culture and language.  YouTube has plenty of resources from language learning enthusiasts and other language learners who are brave enough to post what they know about tackling this interesting subject. Streaming services offer a wide array of movies and tv shows in other languages, and using the captioning and subtitling features, you can follow along with ease.  Pause, rewind, and fast-forward can be a great help when practicing your comprehension skills. Even when you don't understand every word, being exposed to natives speaking the language is a true advantage in your language acquisition skills.

5. Practice! Practice! Practice!

At first, it may seem daunting to speak in the second language.  You may feel self-conscious or confused at times, but that is normal.  Give yourself credit for going outside your comfort zone and try your best. Speak as often as possible, not worrying about perfection.  Instead, focus on mastering key phrases, and repeat them.  Practice pre-written dialogues or cite lines from a script. Read passages in the language aloud, practicing them multiple times each day until you begin to feel more comfortable.  Don't be afraid to ask questions in class, and take opportunities to participate in pair-share activities to practice new vocabulary.  You might be surprised at how quickly your language skills improve!

Language learning is meant to be an adventure, and when you give it your all, you can feel proud that you took on the challenge.  Who knows? Someday, you might be the one to speak for the group when you visit a French speaking country because of what you have learned.

Monica D
Patient and Knowledgeable English Tutor
University of Michigan–Dearborn
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