To feel good learning French you need to remember a few things. None more so than it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Even if you set a tangible goal of passing an exam or speaking about something you love. You will have ups and downs. Here are a few ways of maximising that feel good feeling.
You’ll make mistakes at every stage
Even after 7 months in France I still have to work hard speak well when I converse in French. I have to concentrate very hard on what someone is saying, especially if I’ve never spoken to that person before. When you’re learning a language you need to push yourself at every opportunity to not shy away from the chance to practice. Obviously some days you feel more motivated to do this. This is a post about patting yourself on the back for the little victories that come from language learning. These come despite many things you might see as failures occurring along the way. Failures are good, they let you know what you shouldn’t do next time. Nevertheless, they happen again and again.
If you’re not going to talk, try and listen
Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 months is a huge advocate of speaking as much as possible from as early as possible. I can’t advocate this enough. It took me until I moved to France to push myself to speak, but it was with his voice in the back of my head that nagged me to make the move.
That being said, we’re not all tuned to want to speak all the time, even if our native language. I need breaks and my own space regularly. But unfortunately, that’s not going to aide you in your progress to speak French, or any other language. When, however you have one of these times, at least try and improve another of the 3 main competencies in the mean time.
Before Christmas I was in Avignon and wasn’t in the mood to make small talk with my driver and fellow passengers on the way there (I took a BlaBlaCar – a ride share with other strangers). At the time I criticised myself for this but I did the next best thing and stayed alert to the conversation going on between the driver and one of the others. I was happy at the amount I understood. They were content to speak amongst themselves and my French brain was not yet awake. I practiced my active listening for an hour and a half rather than speaking. But don’t let yourself gain the bad habit of never speaking. You’ve worked hard to get to the stage you’re at now.
Take random opportunities to have a conversation…
..And reap the reward.
Later that day I was walking around the city centre with my headphones in which let me be in my own bubble as I explore. I like this feeling a lot. It’s just me and the fantastic feeling of getting lost in a new place. So when the chattier passenger spotted me and asked me to get a beer with him, my French brain had to jolt into action. I got startled and began to speak very bad French (according to my high standards) but managed a yes and some small talk. Initially I wanted to get it over with and get on with my solo wandering. But then I settled in and enjoyed the chat and the chance to speak. He was very patient and the fact that we spoke different languages didn’t put him off. After that I felt glad I’d been spontaneous and had a chat for an hour. I did of course have moments where I nodded and said “oui” as if I understood when I didn’t. That’s ok. He was talking to me about banking. I think. The take away point from this is to remember that learning a language isn’t something that should be done in books. A huge part of it is learning by living and interacting with people. Even if you’re like me and naturally shy away from these unexpected situations, go against your instinct and you’ll get a great buzz from it.
Do a little dance in your head (or for real) when you get a compliment
Getting complimented on your French, or whatever your target language is, is THE BEST source of further motivation. It makes you all warm and fuzzy inside. Remember them, write them down if it helps. I still remember my first time. I mean my first compliment about my French. I was at a Franglish language exchange in Paris and managed to use autant que in a sentence. The guy on the other side of the table was visibly impressed, and I was chuffed for the rest of the night. I almost forgot about how badly the evening was going until that point. I feel good learning French for quite a while after I’ve received a compliment and feel I’ve earned it.
Hang on to those with whom you are comfortable speaking
It might happen to you a lot. For me, every so often I find someone whom I feel is not at all put off by my struggling to string sentences together. They see past it and want to hear what you have to say. When you’re nervous and sensitive about your level, which happens particularly when you speak to new people who have no vested interest in your learning, it doesn’t take much to get you down. If they so much as glance away, you think “oh they’re bored”. So when you meet someone who makes you feel at ease and continues to talk to you and clearly wants to carry on the conversation, keep hold of them! (Not like kidnap. I mean treat them kindly). I have 2 native speaking friends here in Montpellier like this, and my confidence took a big boost when I met them! Feel good learning French by having a real bond with native speakers.
You’ll feel good learning French if you:
Embrace mistakes, in fact, deliberately make them. Then you can get corrected and eventually eradicate them. Always try to be improving, in even the most minute ways. I’m looking up words all day long on Reverso or using the Google Translate Chrome extension which can translate text on a web page by simply highlighting and clicking the button that appears. If you don’t feel like speaking, make sure you’re listening. Make sure you speak next time. Don’t make not speaking a habit. Even if you’re having a down period in your learning process, take an opportunity to have a conversation should it arise. You’ll feel better afterwards. Most importantly, be able to recognise when you’ve made progress and congratulate yourself. You’ll reach difficulties at every stage.
How do you combat periods when you’re not feeling great about your language learning progress? How do you make sure you feel good learning French? Let me know in the comments!