7 French learning problems - and how to solve them

As a French learning coach, I solve French learning problems for a living. Here are the seven most common French learning problems, and their solutions.

How to learn French fast - learn French language - French language - French learning

How to learn French fast - learn French language - French language - French learning

1. Spotty motivation

When you started learning French, you were super excited and ready to conquer the French speaking world. After a while, your motivation started to drop and it became harder and harder to keep studying.

Why this happens:

It's natural. As humans, we have a need for novelty. Something new is always more excited than something old. As the French say "tout nouveau, tout beau" ("totally new, totally beautiful"). Beginner French students also tend to underestimate how much work learning French really takes. When novelty vanishes and you start to realize how much work it is, you can get discouraged easily.

How to solve it:

The best cure is to remember why you started. Why did you want to learn French in the first place? Make a list of all the awesome things you'll be able to do once you speak French. When you feel a drop in motivation, read over this list again for an instant motivation boost.

2. You can't stick to it

So you know why you are learning French, and you know you need to study regularly (every day is better). But for some reason, you just can't. Something always gets in the way.

Why this happens:

In short: life. It happens to all of us. Life has a habit of getting in the way of any and all plan we make. There will always be things (or people!) trying to rob you of your precious French study time. Sometimes, spotty motivation is also to blame. It's easier to get distracted if you aren't very motivated in the first place (see  #1 above)

How to solve it:

I wrote an entire article about it. Here is a quick recap:

It's all about making your study a priority. You need a study plan that's realistic and flexible, yet non-negotiable. Gard your study time with your life.
Having an efficient study plan is so important that the first thing I do for my new coaching clients is to create a personalized French learning plan for them. You can get one too if you'd like. Click here to learn more.

3. Your goal is to learn French.

Many people have a goal to learn French.
As a language lover and a polyglot, I understand this. I myself always wanted to learn Chinese. Over the years, I've bought a pile of Chinese books (currently gathering dust). I went to some Chinese classes and workshops and I tried a lot of different Chinese learning apps and websites. 
The result? I now know about five words and two sentences in Chinese.

Does this story sound familiar?

Why this happens:

"Learn French" is a terrible goal to have. As I explain in this video, the one thing that predicts your success is how good your reasons to learn are.

Here are my "reasons" to learn Chinese: I think speaking Chinese is fancy and maybe it could be useful somehow, seeing as over one billion humans speak it. Not a very convincing pitch. 

All this to say: if you want to learn French and you can't elaborate, you're in trouble.

How to solve it:

When I create a learning plan for my coaching clients, the first step is always to refine their goals. Everyone has different reasons to learn French (I have listed 27 here). What are yours?
I recommend this journaling exercise: write down all the things you want to do with your future French skills. Dig deep. Every reason to learn is a good one and they will all help you in your journey.
Don't skip this step! Your future results strongly depend on it.

Once you have a good grasp of your reasons to learn, you will be able to use them to keep your motivation high (see #1 in this list)

4. Learning irrelevant stuff

Right now, you might be wasting 80% of your French learning time and efforts on things that will give you little to no results. The 80/20 principle states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. This applies to every area of your life, including learning French. 
Here is a video (originally a facebook live) where I explain this principle, how it applies to French learning, and how you can use it to learn French faster:

Why it happens:

In part because many French learning resources are not very efficient. Why do most beginner French books include the names of all vegetables within the first few lessons? Which beginner needs that? It baffles me.
And in part because what will be relevant for you may not be relevant for someone else.
This is the reason why I create a personalized study plan for each new client I have. I can confidently say this: my success as a French learning coach is entirely due to the fact that I point my student to the few words, sentences, and strategies that will give them the best result. Nothing like seeing quick results to boost your confidence and your motivation.

How to solve it:

The best solution is to have me make a study plan for you.

If you are a DIY person and you're up for figuring it out on your own, I have created this free worksheet that will help you define what matters to you and what to study next.

The trick is to be ruthless about what you learn. Don't learn words and grammar rules "just in case". Learn them only if you know for a fact that you will use them frequently.

How to learn French fast - learn French language - French language - French learning

How to learn French fast - learn French language - French language - French learning

5. Too many unanswered questions

If you're anything like me, any language study session will trigger at least a dozen questions. And then you'll try to answer these questions. You might even stop in the middle of your study session to try and find the answers.
Google can answer everything, as long as you can ask the question in a way that Google will understand. When it comes to French learning questions, this proves surprisingly difficult.

Why this happens?

Your brain is a problem-solving machine. It solves problems by asking and answering questions. This is a very healthy functioning.  It only becomes a problem when you can't find the answers. 
For me, as a French native and a language learning expert, it is very easy to answer any question about learning French. If I don't know the answer right away, I can phrase the right question for Google and quickly identify a source I can trust among the proposed answers. If you're not an expert, it's much harder. Many resources are very unhelpful.

In fact, one of my favourite compliments I received about this website was when a stranger emailed me to say "this is actually helpful". This says a lot about the quality of some language learning advice you can find online. Great language learning websites exists but they can be hard to find.

How to solve it:

When I work regularly with a client, I tell them to write down any question they have and bring it to me during the next session.  I can then answer the question in a quick and concise way and point them to helpful resources.
If you're learning on your own, it's good to have a few go-to resources, such as a French grammar book you find clear, and a short list of websites that you find helpful (like, hopefully, this one). Later, you'll be able to return to these websites for more guidance.

6. Overwhelm

You have no idea what to do next, nothing works, it's too hard and you just want to quit.

Why this happens:

Typically because of a mix of all previous problems. Pile up imprecise goals, decaying motivation, irrelevant content and life regularly getting in the way and you have the perfect recipe for overwhelm.

How to solve it:

Take a step back, breathe and look at the bigger picture. Then, address each issue one by one, starting with your reasons to learn French (see #3)

Or, even better, enlist the help of a professional French learning coach. 

7. Not speaking enough

You don't have many opportunities to speak. Or when you do, you're too shy and you can't find your words fast enough.
As I often repeat, the only way to learn how to speak is to speak. You know that. But it's still not happening. So you're stuck.

Why this happens:

We are creatures of habits. Our brains try hard to keep us safely in our "comfort zone". This means that we keep doing what we are used to doing, because we believe it's safe. We also keep not doing what we are not used to doing, because we're unconsciously afraid it might be dangerous.

If you haven't spoken much French until this point, it will cost you a lot of effort to start speaking French. That's just your brain trying to keep you safe.

How to solve this:

Feeling safe is the important thing here. It will be much easier for you to start speaking French in a safe, controlled environment.

This is one of the key aspects of my coaching practice. You can only make progress if you feel safe enough to step out of your comfort zone.
Learning a language is a very vulnerable experience. You need to be confident that you won't be judged or rushed. 
When a student practice speaking French with me, I make sure to be very supportive. I encourage them to take all the time they need and to ask for the words they don't know or don't remember.
I also create small challenges for them to practice French in real life. These challenges are designed to take them out of their comfort zone one step at a time. A simple challenge could be to go to a bakery (if you are staying in a French speaking country) and buy some bread. This challenge only requires to learn a few sentences beforehands. Once you've completed a challenge, you will feel on top of the world and ready to conquer a more difficult challenge next time.

Which challenges can you create for yourself? 
Please share them in the comments below to inspire other French learners.

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About the authof

Angel Pretot is a French learning coach. He helps English speakers from all over the world learn French fast and become fluent. You can work with him one-on-one (online via skype or a similar software) or join a global community of French learners in his group program the French Fluency Accelerator.

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