In the summer of 2000, I moved to Paris, France, for a work assignment. Although members of my family spoke a little French around the house when I was growing up, my skills were rusty. Before my assignment began, I wanted to upgrade my language skills, especially as I expected to have business conversations in French and I was afraid of miscommunication.
For several weeks before I began work in Paris, I moved in with a French friend in the town of Évreux in the Normandy region. Few residents of the town spoke English, and my friend decided that he would speak to me only in French as well. We had our hilarious moments, but complete immersion turned out to be the best possible way to bring my spoken French up to par.
I spent a couple of hours every morning with the workbooks that I had purchased at L'Alliance Francaise. The workbooks covered a myriad of topics from basic grammar and to the proper use of verbs and adverbs. I would then combine the academic lessons with newspaper reading; specifically, I read all the financial newspapers with my dictionary by my side, since I needed to build a business vocabulary quickly.
After all that work, I needed a break and shopping was a great outlet. I know what you’re thinking, but interacting with people is the best way to practice what you have learned and build your confidence. Often, there are words and phrases that you will learn only when conversing. Books are great but we all know that, in any language, common vernacular is taught peer to peer, not through books.
Listening to French popular music was a lot of fun, and an effortless way to absorb a new language. Lunch was another great adventure. My friend and I had many group lunches, and I insisted that everyone speak normally, using conversational French spoken at a normal rate. This was trying at first, but ultimately I think it really helped me master conversational French in a few short weeks.
It’s very useful to learn filler words – that is, the words and phrases people that fill the time between phrases (alors, en fait, etc.), but which have no real meaning. They allow you to buy time in a conversation, and that will increase your confidence.
I hope you’ll find my experience useful if you need to master a new language quickly. Bonne chance!