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Language Learning Made Easy: Top Tips and Tricks

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

I arrived in Paris for my year abroad six weeks ago. I have lost all grasp of the English language – let alone any French I came with – and I have recently resorted to excessive hand gestures like the soul of an old Italian grandmother possesses me. It’s the latest development of my slow demise into insanity.

My brain is both exhausted and alert from operating in overdrive every day. When I close my eyes confusing verb conjugations and croissants flash behind my eyelids. I seek solace from the French language in episodes of easy sitcoms on Netflix – more often than I care to admit. 

I often feel frustrated at my inability to express myself eloquently or understand my surroundings with ease. I stalk the streets of Paris with an unmistakable lust for the chic, laissez-faire, cool girl energy that all Parisian girls seem to naturally possess. 

So why then, am I so determined to learn French if it is the romanticisation of modern torture? 

Like most people in life, I am driven by an endless pursuit of love and pain: love of sipping coffee on a Parisian Terrasse, overlooking the Eiffel Tower; the pain of them serving me tea because they misunderstood my poor accent when ordering. 

But in my extensive quest for fluency, I have gathered some advice for acquiring a language, no matter what your level: 

Lily Collins as Emily in episode 204 of Emily in Paris
Photo by Carole Bethuel / Netflix

Be willing to laugh at yourself. 

Make peace with your mistakes and laugh at the juvenile nature of your sentences. Enjoy telling people the colour of your mum’s hair and the fact you played football with your friends ‘le weekend dernier’ whilst it lasts. 

You are not going to be able to explain the complexities of the economy after your first ten minutes on Duolingo. As you improve and your conversation progresses, focus less on mistakes made and more on getting your point across. Whilst in exams grammar counts for everything, native speakers may notice your mistake but not even truly understand why.  

 Participate in language exchanges – online or IRL. 

Accosting a French person on their morning boulangerie run to tell them about what’s in your pencil case might not be the best strategy. 

Instead, find language exchange programs in your area, at university, or online where you share your culture and language and then they reciprocate the favour with their language. This way you are both mutually benefitting from what will ultimately be a slightly painful and slow conversation to begin with and you may even gain a new friend from the experience. 

Be relentless and resilient

Unlike many other hobbies or skills, we sadly lose our ability as adults to passively inhale new vocabulary and the quirks of a country simply by observing. And further to that, unlike with crafting or yoga or baking, there is no finished product to proudly share on the family Whatsapp. 

The acquisition of a language brings to mind an old phrase my dad used to harp on to me about as a kid – “How do you eat an elephant, Bells?”, cue wide-eyed bemused little girl – “one bite at a time”. 

In other words, competency and confidence are built slowly and whilst there will be EURIKA moments where everything falls into place, you will also have days where the effort feels like it’s amounting to nothing. But take it from someone who’s down in the trenches too, you are improving. To quote my dad again- apparently a wiser man that I give him credit for- your penny drop moment is “just around the next corner”.

Drop the embarrassment factor. 

Social anxiety was so last year. If you don’t believe me, take it from the Tube Girl. 

Last month I was sitting around a table with some friends for dinner and accidentally told them I was pregnant, instead of full from the food. I’ve responded “I love you” to simple questions asking if I like something, instead of “I love it”. The worst had to be when I misheard the word for death “la mort” as love “l’amour” – you can imagine my god awful, completely inappropriate reaction to what was in fact a very intimate and sombre conversation. 

The point? It’s not that deep. People are far more forgiving than we tend to give them credit for, and whilst those moments will come back to haunt me in my dreams for years to come, the others involved will put it to rest in the laughter we shared in that moment.

Have fun with it.

The cliché of all clichés when it comes to giving advice. However this little gem has remained prevalent in the agony aunt-sphere because it rings with validity and truth. Whilst focus and drive are necessary in all plights, if language learning is a chore, you will naturally be less inclined to retain the information. 

It goes without saying that not everyone can hop on a Eurostar for a year and fully immerse themselves in the culture. Therefore, consider instead, picking up a translated version of your favourite book, or recreating the language’s local cuisine one evening to mix up your meal prep. 

And remember at the heart of it all, when you’re in the thick of a tricky grammar lesson, or you resort to charades because you’ve forgotten a basic word, why you chose to have a go at a language in the first place. 

Bon courage de la part d’une petite Anglaise à Paris!

Uni of Bristol student studying French and Politics. Wannabe writer.