Are looking to up your French Speaking Skills?
Then this will be the ultimate guide to overcome a real challenge in learning French
Let’s dive right in.
Fine, but how exactly will you do it?
What type of skills are involved?
When learning French, various skills are engaged and needed.
Six to be precise.
Four of them might seem obvious to you as they are well known and they are the most worked on in schools:
However, I would add an extra two to this list: pronunciation and memorization.
Indeed, without them, you cannot actually become fluent in French. They serve as a sort of backbone to everything else. So now that I have told you about the different skills, what you need to know is how to measure them in order to be able to reach your different learning goals and to check your progress as well as your degree of fluency.
In this blog, I will focus on how to measure your French speaking skills.
The latter are definitely extremely important skills that you must practice regularly (and, by this, I mean daily or, at least, as often as possible) and probably the most.
Practicing your speaking will also help with your pronunciation and therefore with your capacity to be understood. Here are 6 ways to measure your French-speaking skill.
Pronunciation represents a very significant part of the speaking skill. Indeed, without a good pronunciation, you can’t fully master your speaking. However, it is important not to get “having an accent” and “mispronouncing words” mixed up. Indeed your accent is part of who you are and, somehow, you should be proud of it when you speak French language (even though, yes, not having a French accent when speaking another language is what we all aim for but this take time to achieve, if ever). Why am I telling you this?
Well, how many people have I seen giving up on learning French simply because they felt ashamed of their native tongue accent? What a shame that is!! So please, don’t get into that mindset. Plus, don’t you find it sexy when someone speaks with a French accent? You do?… So do I.
Anyway, let’s come back to pronunciation. Why should you measure your progress in that area? The main reason for this is because a poor pronunciation can prevent your meaning from getting across and it can make your conversation rather obscure and confusing.
How can you measure it then?
For me, you have to focus on three main points: articulating clearly, appropriately pronouncing words (especially the ones with an unusual spelling) and intonation.
Now, the question is: how can you progress in these three fields? First, you need to learn French sounds (one letter sounds and two or more letters sounds which often create new sounds altogether). Once you’ll master all the different French sounds, you’ll have to practice them.
To do so, you can listen to French and repeat, record yourself and listen to how you pronounce the words in comparison to how a French native speaker does and adjust your pronunciation. You can also read out loud. Indeed, you’ll realize when you’ll read out loud, rather than in your head, that you might struggle with some words’ pronunciation.
Realizing this will allow you to practice and therefore to progress! Finally, the best thing you could ever do to practice your pronunciation is to speak to a native speaker.
When it comes to vocabulary, it is possible to distinguish two categories of words: the ones belonging to your vocabulary comprehension and the ones pertaining to your vocabulary production. What exactly are these? The first one, vocabulary comprehension, contains all the words you actually understand when reading or listening to French but that you wouldn’t necessarily use yourself.
The second one, vocabulary production, includes all the words you actively say when you speak. When learning French, it is essential to develop a great range of words both in the recognition vocabulary category and in the production one.
How can you measure your skill in this area?
First, you can ask yourself if the words you’re using are precise enough or if you could choose some more appropriate ones. You could also look for synonyms to extend your knowledge and obviously look for the meaning of any new words you don’t know (WordReference is a fantastic online dictionary by the way).
You’ll know you’ve made some serious progress once you’ll be able to use a greater variety of words (without any prompting).
Now, let me quickly give you some practical ideas to help you develop your French vocabulary. First, saying new words (and more generally any word) out loud is a great way to memorize them as, not only, do you practice your speaking and more specifically your pronunciation but you also work on your listening.
Moreover, associating these two skills will help you to visualize, to hear and to remember the words better. Another trick is to write lists of words belonging to the same topics. Indeed, categorizing vocabulary into different themes will help you learn more words.
A great vocabulary exercise (and rather fun too) is to label everything surrounding yourself at home and at work. Doing this will enable you to read and read again the same words (words you’re very likely to use in a conversation as they belong to your everyday life). They will definitely stick in your head!
Another tip I’d give you is to do some mots fléchés (crosswords). Not only is this a rather entertaining way to learn new words, it will also help you measuring your progress as you can increase the crosswords’ difficulty. Finally, it is vital to put the words you’ve learnt into context to give them a tangible meaning.
3) Spoken grammar accuracy
Grammar represents such a big part French.
It actually plays a key role in learning the structure of a language, French in your case. Accurately using it in writing in one thing but doing so when speaking is a totally different matter. Indeed, many students (maybe you included) find it a lot easier to correctly use the various grammar rules (and French does have many…) when writing and totally understand them when reading.
However, when it comes to speaking, many second language learners find it a lot more difficult.
Why is that?
Well, it’s simply because when you speak, when you’re having a conversation, you don’t have as much time to think everything through. You’re on the spot and the grammar lessons you learnt aren’t always automatically coming back to you (well, not as fast as you wish anyway).
What can you do about it?
How can you improve your spoken grammar accuracy?
My first piece of advice is for you to practice, practice, and practice.
An interesting method to enhance your French language accuracy is done in three stages:
What do you have to do?
Well, basically, in the first stage, you have to notice some grammatical characteristics of French. By finding them yourself, you’re more likely to integrate them better.
In the second stage, you have to compare these French grammar rules to the English ones and see what are the similarities and differences. Naming them will also help you memorize them better. Finally, the last stage allows you to transfer the rules from one language to another. This very self-directed learner method is ideal to become responsible for your own learning. To work on your spoken grammar, you can record yourself having a fake conversation about a chosen topic.
Then you listen to it and try to find all (maybe none eh) grammar mistakes. You write them down and state the actual rule next to them.
Next, you repeat the exercise and try to avoid the previous mistakes you made. How can you measure your progress in spoken grammar accuracy? By analyzing and reflecting on your output. You will have reached a great level of accuracy once you’ll be able to name and correct your own mistakes.
This is an extremely important point. Essential even. Indeed, communication is at the core of French learning. You learn French to communicate with people, to open to the world. However, communication is not (only) based on vocabulary and grammar. It goes a lot further than that. Communication is how you get your message across. Therefore, body language, facial expressions and gestures represent a great part of communication.
While learning French, you must realize that yes, of course, you need grammar structures, of course you need to know a lot of words but you also need confidence. Confidence to accept that you are on a journey to become fluent but you’re not there yet. Still, though, you have things to say in French, and you need to be confident enough to accept you’ll make mistakes.
Sometimes, getting your message across passes by finding a different way to make yourself understood. That is communication. I have a little anecdote for you. A friend of mine who is French once met an English guy. Neither of them spoke each other’s language. Well, she spoke a bit of English but he didn’t speak any French. They obviously liked each other (a lot) and had to find a way to communicate and to understand each other.
The beginning of their relationship was mainly based on drawing little pictures and miming what they needed to say. That’s how they started to learn each other language. Beautiful story. Love and language learning all in one! How can you improve your communication skills? Again, by practicing. Imagine a situation (maybe one you will have to live, something you will need to ask to someone) and act (not necessarily in front of people. They could find it a bit weird…). It could be when you’re in your car for example. This will stop you from sounding hesitant or from mumbling under your breath. It will give you confidence.
What is “interaction”?
Interaction is the capacity to exchange verbally with someone. That means you must be able to speak but also to listen and comprehend. There is no interaction if you haven’t got the ability to listen carefully to someone speaking and to respond appropriately.
In order to check whether or not you are able to interact with someone, you can ask yourself a few questions. Are you able to listen, understand and reply to questions? When someone speaks to you in French, do you give correct responses in the conversation or do you miss the point completely?
To improve your interaction skills, I would definitely advise you to listen to what people tell you as well as to what you actually tell them yourself (this, in order to reflect on your message. Do your words match your thoughts?). You can observe whether or not you’re making progress by checking whether or not you have appropriate responses to others in a conversation.
Last but not least skill to measure your spoken skills is fluency. It probably is the easiest quality to evaluate. Being fluent means finding it easy to speak, to communicate, to interact in French.
Would you say you feel comfortable when speaking in French?
Do words easily come out?
Is your syntax correct?
If so, you’re likely to be fluent (or, at least, not very far off). Fluency does not happen overnight. It is indeed a long learning journey. It gathers all the skills mentioned previously (pronunciation, vocabulary, spoken grammar accuracy and interaction). It is the result of them all combined together.
Speaking French isn’t always easy to evaluate as so many different skills are actually involved. Measuring your French speaking skills will mainly get you to check whether you can express yourself spontaneously in various situations (personal and professional), if you precisely formulate ideas and opinions, if you answer correctly to questions and if, when you are part of a conversation, you listen and reply accordingly to what is said.
Side Note: Want a light introduction to French grammar and vocabulary? Check Out Our French Course for Beginners
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