What’s your langtitude?


Ah, learning a new language. Communicating with the locals is just a question of talking a bit louder in your own language, right? They’ll understand, eventually.

Well, not quite. If you want to live a fulfilled life in a foreign country, then you’d probably do well to pick up a few more words than just your favourite foods, and ‘two beers, please’. And especially in France, given that attempting to complete any kind of paperwork is a lesson in jumping through the smallest, weirdest-shaped hoops in the world, and ones that keep on moving or just plain disappearing to boot. And that’s just if you speak perfect French already. With language skills under your belt, life just gets that little bit easier. And just, well richer.

Now I’m not a master of French in any sense of the word (I’m intermediate at best), though I’m a very willing student, constantly looking for ways to make those foreign words stick in my head. Piles of cash and endless hours of free time would make the process easier, and I could pay for one of those intensive courses, or luxury of luxuries a month-long home stay with a French family in rural France where I’d be forced to speak nothing but the lingo as I bonded with my hosts as they taught me to make goat’s cheese.

But my pockets just aren’t that deep. I’m looking for the resources that don’t cost the world, hell, don’t cost even a solitary bean if preferable. And the good news is, there is plenty out there. Super! (That means ‘really great’ in French. See, learning already!)

1. Motivation

In the language game, you don’t get every far without this. Putting a copy of 1000 French Verbs under your pillow at night and expecting the words to magically leap into your head just isn’t going to happen. Regardless of whether you’re one of those sickening people who has a freakish aptitude for languages, learning French is hard. It will take work. And your accent will suck constantly. But so does mine, so we’re all in the same bateau. (See? Another one!)

2. TV or not TV…

Yes, yes, French television isn’t the greatest in the world, but it’s an important resource all the same. If you have a TV at home, work out how to put the subtitles on (in French is better), and get watching. Have a pen and paper handy and note down any new words that crop up, grab your dictionary (or the dictionary app if you’re a slave to your smartphone) and find out the meaning. If you’re a higher level, just watching programmes in French is a great way to get your ears dancing to the right linguistic rhythm. Bizarrely, the French seem to adore game shows, there’s heaps on the box, and programmes that play with words and ask questions are language learning gold in my book.

2b. Touch that dial

Plus most satellite boxes have radio channels too if you fancy going more old school. You can choose the talking ones if French pop music gives you the heebie jeebies.

3. Be a slave to the page

Or, even more than that, words in general. They’re everywhere – on billboards, menus, signs telling you not to do things, chock-full in those free papers you get on the metro… Read them all. Get to know what they mean. If you want to chance a full novel, you can pick them up at many a second hand bookshop for next to nothing (or even at Guerrisol, they normally have a few hanging around). Be random if you want, or better, choose something you’ve read before and enjoyed. Even if it’s ‘Arry Pott-air (as the French would say). Though the word for the spells will probably be the same.

4. Find a friend

Maybe you have a collection of French friends already, which is great. Talk to them in French. A no-brainer. If you don’t, find some. Interacting with the locals is a great way to boost your language skills. For those who already have more friends that they can count, head to craigslist or the FUSAC website and see if you can find a conversation exchange buddy. The idea is that you find a French speaker in need of some English practice, and you sit in a cafe (or a on a park bench if you so wish), and speak for an hour or so, half in English and half in French. Though it pays to be a bit cautious – some folks see this is a good way of getting a date. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

5. Be curious

TV’s not your thing. The background buzz of a radio annoys you like an errant fly. You’re allergic to making friends. It’s important to find something that you’re into, if not the whole thing becomes a chore and you’ll get nowhere. You like cooking? Then find recipes on the internet in French and boost your skills that way. You’re mad about the cinema? Then try a French film once in a while. Celebrity gossip your thing? Then do it in French and learn what horribly pointless things Miley Cyrus is doing these days, in French (so they’ll probably sound a great deal more exotic than they really are). Easy!

All that remains for me to say is, bonne chance! (Now you’ve learned four new words, you could practically write a French essay!*)


*If it was called ‘good luck really great boat’.