In late 2016, I decided to move to Montréal with hopes to settle down permanently in the Province of Quebec (in short, Quebec) in Canada. Many immigrants avoid Quebec because the official language here is French.
I chose to move to Quebec because I wanted to learn French, but I didn’t know that I’d have to do it racing against time.
The city of Montréal is multicultural and luckily, I got a job offer from a company named Evolving Web based in Old Montréal. Thus, began my journey to learn French as fast as possible, because I had ~12 months to pass a French test to become eligible for an immigration program called the PEQ.
My Spanish had finally started sounding more natural when I started exploring French. I learned that Quebec speaks French, which is a romance language, i.e. derived from Latin. Additionally, Quebec has a French accent that differs from the French spoken in France.
As an English and Spanish speaker, I felt like I already knew 60% of the French language.
In an attempt to get some cultural background and references, I watched old TV advertisements that were televised in Quebec in the 1970s. That’s how I came across a TV commercial for Labatt beer from the 70s. I fell in love with the song in the ad and it inspired me to learn more French.
Last, but not the least, a lady who broke my heart had once told me that she loved the French language. It was my time to pay her a tribute by learning French, even though I’ll probably never speak it with her in this lifetime 😅.
Additionally, the very thought of pronouncing French words and singing French songs like Je Ne Regrette Rien and Le Temps Est Bon inspired me to learn the language as fast as possible. Bring it on!
My goal was to be able to pass the TEFAQ or TCFQ with a score of B2, i.e. intermediate-advanced. Thus my goals covered:
- Ability to participate in day-to-day French conversations.
- Ability to understand French songs, movies, and articles.
- Ability to speak, preferably, with a Quebec accent.
- Having a framework of the language so that I can keep learning and improving.
You might have different goals, which is perfectly fine. To achieve these goals, I put aside around 90 minutes a day:
- 30 minutes of reading.
- 45 minutes of listening.
- 15 minutes of speaking.
Apart from this, I was passively improving my skills through other activities which are mentioned in the rest of the article.
I was surprised to see the resemblance between French, Spanish, and English! French grammar, sentence structures, and a huge chunk of the vocabulary is very similar to Spanish. As for spellings, and pronunciation, I relied more on English.
I was using Duolingo for a while, but I soon got rid of it because it was making me repeat everything too many times!
I relied on Google Translate and various French conjugation websites. At the same time, I learned a lot of words, expressions, and sentence structures at my workplace, listening to francophone colleagues.
The French alphabet is the same as the English alphabet with some special accent marks, for example,
ç, é, è, ê, ë. Thus, reading was fairly easy. Here are some things I did to speed up the learning process:
- Read anything I found interesting, for example,
- Warning message on fire alarms.
- Safety instructions on a permanent marker.
- Warnings on automatic subway doors.
- License plates on cars to practice numbers and letters.
- Read news articles in French.
- I used my phone to read news articles in French.
- I configured French as my phone’s language for 3-6 months.
- Read emails/letters/notices to learn formal writing styles.
- Read children’s stories or nursery rhymes.
- These books are usually simple and good for learning the basics.
- Bought a newspaper and read one paragraph from it every day.
- Journalists use very flashy vocabulary, so, I ignored many fancy words.
- Maintained a list of things that I needed to learn.
While reading new words, I learned how they’re pronounced! You can easily do this by typing the word in a translation software or by looking up the word on the Internet.
If you can’t understand others, they’ll probably not converse with you in French – sad, but true. To tackle this problem, I started learning French words and basic sentences using audio books, reading, and even Duolingo.
70% of French words sounded like mispronounced English or Spanish to me, so I had a head start.
Here are some things I did to improve my listening skills:
- Learned as many useful words as I could, mostly by reading.
- Listened to Radio Canada and other stations.
- I chose some informal programs, e.g. artist interviews.
- I chose some formal programs, e.g. political debates.
- Watched Netflix with French audio and subtitles.
- Made francophone friends and conversed with them as much as possible.
- They were mostly from Quebec, so they spoke with the Quebec accent.
- Paid attention to PSAs, weather forecasts, ads, and more.
- Talked to Uber-drivers and shopkeepers in French as far as possible.
- Started conversations with strangers in the elevator.
Since Montréal is bilingual, making a mistake meant that the other person would try to switch to English. However, I stuck to French and sometimes, I even told them that I had to practice for a test. If a shop is not very crowded or if there are not many people behind you in a queue, people will patiently converse with you in French.
I believe that to be able to speak naturally, one must be able to think in that language! So, after a certain point, I started thinking in French. While speaking, I did not concentrate on my speed, but I focused on the pronunciation and the correctness. I corrected many of my own errors without hampering the flow of the conversation. I also told others that if I made big mistakes, they could correct me.
Here’s what I did to accelerate the learning process so that I could sing my favourite French songs ASAP:
- Learned to reproduce sounds that are unique to French.
- The French “R” is difficult to pronounce for many people!
- There are many “u” type sounds which have subtle differences. For example, “roue” is a wheel, while “rue” is a road.
- Once I knew to say something in French, I always said it in French.
- Read aloud when possible.
- Talked to myself when possible 😅.
- Imagined a scenario and conversed as both parties to the conversation.
- I did this in front of a mirror and while walking to my workplace.
- Summarized movies and radio programs 🤷🏽♂️.
- Express what I did throughout the day and what I plan to do during the week.
- This helps practice the past and the future tenses.
Personally, I’ve found Spanish to be more logical and scientific than French. However, I had to accept that I chose to learn French, so I’ll have to deal with it. Again, you might know sufficient French, but you might not pass the exam if you’re not used to appearing for tests.
If required, take the test once to know where you stand and then take it a 2nd time with more preparation to pass it.
I chose to do 5-6 mock tests online before signing up for the real test. Unfortunately, you’ll need reading skills for the listening test. You need to be able to read the question and the possible answers fast, otherwise, you might not be able to answer some questions.
- Do at least 3 mock tests online.
- Don’t get nervous – breathe and stay calm.
- Follow the instructions carefully.
- Focus on getting good at the language.
- If you’re good enough, you’ll pass automatically.
- Don’t regret during the test – it will ruin the rest of the test.
- Have extra money and time in case you need to reappear.
- Read the answers/choices before the audio starts.
- This makes it easier to answer the questions.
- Depending on the test, you’ll only hear the audio once or twice. So, pay full attention to the audio when it’s playing.
- Don’t try to read questions/answers while an audio is playing.
- Close your eyes if it helps and concentrate on the audio.
- If there is no negative scoring, take guesses when you don’t know an answer.
- 10% of the audios might have a strong regional accent.
- Don’t worry if you can’t answer some difficult questions.
- These are probably for people who aim to get C1 or C2 scores.
- Always speak French – don’t switch to any other language.
- Try not to make mistakes, but it is okay to make some mistakes.
- Bonus points if you correct your own mistakes.
- If you don’t understand something, request the examiner to repeat (in French).
- Try to keep things simple to avoid falling into your own traps.
- Speak at a slower speed if that helps reduce the number of mistakes.
- Be creative with the conversation – let your imagination run wild!
- It’s okay to take small pauses of 1-2 seconds to think.
- In the formal conversation, speak as you would with your boss.
- In the informal conversation, speak as you would with a friend.
- Don’t use curse words though 🤬.
French is difficult to learn because even native French speakers describe it as irregular and unscientific to a great extent. If you know a romance language similar to French, it makes things a little easier. The most important thing though is to believe in yourself! Believe that you can speak French, make a plan, set a deadline, and start learning. Good luck!
- Read about learning languages as an adult.
- Read about how I grew up with 4 languages and became a Polyglot.
- Read about how I moved to Montréal.
- Read about how I became a Permanent Resident of Canada.