How to master French grammar the easy way
French grammar is one of the biggest concerns of French learners. So, if you are worried about it, you are definitely not alone.
It’s true that French grammar can sometimes be elusive. What’s worse, we have a looming impression that making a mistake could be deadly. It’s generally not. Take my French learning coach word’s for it: most of the time, your grammar mistakes won’t matter at all.
Nonetheless, in this article, I’m going to share with you the exact method that I use with my coaching clients, so that you can relax and learn French grammar in a way that’s both easy and efficient.
First, let’s look into some misconceptions about grammar, that you might have gathered from school. I like to call the school method “the hard way”.
The hard way (plus, it often doesn’t work)
Whenever, I start working with a new client, I ask them “how do you feel about grammar?” I typically get one of two answers:
“Ugh. Is that really necessary?” (translation: I hate grammar, I hope you won’t make me deal with it too much)
“ I think grammar is really important.” (translation: I need to understand how the language work, so I hope we’ll do some grammar)
Take a note of which “camp” you’re in, because this will determine the best way to learn grammar (and French in general) for you.
What’s fascinating about these answers is that they both are the result of the school approach to grammar. At school we typically get the message that grammar is boring but necessary. Then, different students focus on either boring or necessary, resulting in those two answers.
At school (and in many French methods for adults too) we learn grammar with exercises, and drills and learning lists of rules and exceptions. Quite frankly, that’s the hard way. And very often it’s not even efficient. Think about it: if it had already worked for you, you wouldn’t be researching it right now, would you?
Good news: there’s an easier way. Two actually.
2. The easy way (although it’s a bit hit or miss too).
Quick question: If English is your native language, how did you learn to speak it with good grammar?
You probably don’t remember if for yourself. However, if you’ve ever seen a toddler who’s learning English, you know that they haven’t done any grammar exercises. Instead they just sort of soak up the language and learn to speak correctly eventually.
Good news: as an adult, you still have this ability. You can learn French (and French grammar) via immersion, just like you did as a child.
However, two things get in the way:
You typically don’t get as much ‘immersion’ (ie: as much time with the new language) as the toddler does. So you need to arrange a French environment for yourself to tap into this natural ability. Immersion is a key aspect of the method I use with my student. Every student who owns their Roadmap to Fluency knows that they are to listen to French everyday (even if they are doing something else at the same time, or if they only have it in the background). We call this the “daily French bath”. I also give them a personalised list of resources that they’ll love, so it’s easy for them to tune in to French everyday.
As an adult, you tend to second-guess a lot more than toddlers do, and this gets in the way of your natural French learning abilities.
—> If you are already good at speaking even when you’re not sure that what you’re saying is correct, then this will be less of a problem for you. It’s likely that you are part of the first group mentioned above, the “huh, is it really necessary? I don’t like grammar” group. Immersion will work wonders for you. You will still benefit from using the method below, as this will make your French more fluent and more accurate.
—> However, if you tend to second guess a lot, get shy or freeze when you are about to speak French, then you’ll really need to use the method below. It’s likely that you are part of the second group mentioned above the “I think grammar is really important” group.
3. The easy-ish + efficient way (best of both worlds!)
This is the method that I use with my coaching clients. It takes advantage of both approaches mentioned above, and it will work well for you, whether you love grammar or hate it.
Immersion is compulsory. As I mentioned above, the “daily French bath” is a big part of Your Roadmap to Fluency. You get to watch any content you want in French, and the internet is full of it. I promise you, whatever hobby or interest you have, some French native has made a YouTube channel about it. (I even found some about baseball, a sport that is hardly played in France at all). Watch stuff you like so it’s enjoyable. Also, your brain remembers better when you have fun, so that’s a win-win for your brain and your French goals.
Whatever grammar you don’t learn through immersion, you can master through targeted exercises.
A coaching session with me is like the tip of the iceberg of your French study. This is the moment when I give you some guidance on how to move forward, and that includes checking your current level and finding out which grammar you have already mastered, and which particular aspects would benefit from a little boost.
Then, my approach depends a bit on camp you’re in.
If you love to understand how things work, we’ll focus more on the grammar rules and the mechanics of the language. I’ll give you some exercise so you can systematise the new rules at home. I like to use the books Grammaire progressive du Français for that. They’re the best, in my professional opinion. Then once you’ve understood it, we’ll practice those skills in conversation to make sure that you have assimilated them.
If you are more of a grammar-averse person, I’ll find ways to have you practice the rules through targeted exercises that don’t really look like grammar exercises. For example, I will make you speak about your childhood do you can practice the past tenses and understand how they work, while still having a meaningful conversation. I’ll do my best to give you as little annoying grammar as possible, because I just know that when you’re annoyed, you don’t learn.
For both camps, the takeaway is that you need awareness of what is working for you and what isn’t. It is good to assume that you will learn most of the grammar through immersion and you’ll only have to address very specific points which turn out to be harder.
Ask yourself this questions: which parts of the French language aren’t working for you? For example, it’s common for French learners to struggle with verbs. Go one step deeper. Do you struggle with all verbs and all tenses? Likely not. Which ones are hard for you? Target these.
Granted, it’s a lot easier to do this if you have an experienced coach to guide you. If you would like my help to learn French faster and more easily, I would be thrilled to work with you. We can have weekly sessions or monthly sessions. Please check out my coaching offer right here.
If you would like to learn out more about my holistic + systematic method and see how you can apply it in your life, this free course is here for you.