Hey, dear Francophile ✋ if you already have a basic knowledge and you’d like to continue up until an intermediate French, in this post I’ll give you info and strategies to make it.
If you don’t know what level you are in, or if you are definitely green, read this post first:
French is a beautiful, yet challenging language from many points of view.
New phases involve new peaks to climb. One you need to conquer, for a starter, is the shyness to speak French and use it with others. But the linguistic acclimation is somewhat stressful too: tuning with such sounds, getting accustomed to a confusing orthography, exceptions of all sorts, etc. 😵
Most of these peaks have to be achieved, or most of them anyway, during the beginning phase. When you’re approaching intermediate French, there’s still a lot to do.
No problem! French keeps being an extremely rewarding language, and with the right mindset and tools, you can very well flow towards an advanced level, C1 and beyond.
Let’s have a look at them.
Intermediate French: The challenges ahead
The keep it simple, stupid rule does not work anymore.
A sentence like I ate good cheese, now must be decorated: I tasted a delicious mature Samrisé cheese, slightly nutty and quite flavourful.
A job interview, an order at a restaurant, a call to 999: three of the things you must know. You have to get the liaisons right. A business email, an official complaint, a summary of an event: must-knows too.
You have to understand the standard language of most French-speaking countries.
And to be here, you must have read books and magazines, watched movies and pièces, spoken a lot with native and fluent French speakers.
OK, but, where do I start?
From the recipe for success of any language learning endeavour: 🚀
- interactions with French speakers
Intermediate French: How to start
If it’s been a while since you touched French, it’s a good idea to give a general review of your previous material. Then, get Using French by Assimil:
It’s very well crafted. It takes you by hand and brings you to your desired intermediate French.
Watch out: 🤨 according to Assimil, C1 is the level you should achieve thanks to this course. I respectfully disagree: we do not have mathematical formulae to ascertain precisely where you’d get, but a B2 seems more realistic
It’s still one of the best courses around, don’t be mistaken. Alongside this textbook, if you can carve some other time, put some energy also on:
- listening to music, learning lyrics by heart, listening to them again and singing them out loud 🎤;
- watch movies and series with subtitles, be dubbed or original, it’s irrelevant;
- listening to the radio: news, talk shows, reportages. Radio France o Tune In will be of help;
- listening to podcasts: the podcast fever has long infected la francophonie too.
Some podcasts are marvellous: e.g. Podcast Français Facile or those provided by Radio France;
- reading books: it still is one the best way to improve French, and always will be.
The care needed to craft a book, it’s bigger than that poured in a magazine, a blog or a newspaper.
Let me tell you here below some of those I liked the most.
Intermediate French: Reading books is darn useful
These are just a few of those I’d suggest you read with attention:
Albert Camus, loved and hated, do not leave anybody unmoved. It’s a must-read author: I’d suggest you start from L’Étranger.
I really have to suggest to you this Belgian lady: halfway between the Far East and Far Europe is Amélie Nothomb with ther spectacular Stupeur et tremblements. Excellent.
Nobel Prize in 2014, Patrick Modiano is a pillar of French literature.
Intermediate French: Conquer the B2
You’ve completed your Using French by Assimil, read some books, trained your oral and written abilities.
Now it’s time to sweat again a bit on old-style textbooks. These two are compulsory:
Edito B2, textbook and workbook: conceived for class environments, they are great also for self-learning plans. They are worth every penny.
It’d be great, alongside Édito, to continue with the aforementioned activities: reading, listening to audio tracks, talking, writing. If you can work them with a private tutor, you’d progress much faster; still, you can use these on your own as well.
Some books I am inclined to suggest you, on your quest to an intermediate French:
Anything written by Jacques Le Goff, the world’s best medievalist who passed away in 2014, is a masterpiece. His La civilisation de l’Occident médiéval has proven to be a gigantic book. Excellent to learn history jargon and formal French.
Sartre, on the other hand, was given the prize in 1964 but refused it. This two-books-in-one is a smashing read.
According to your motivation and schedule, your results may vary. Anyway, several months will be needed for sure. Once you’ll have done all that previously indicated, I’d consolidate the achievement with these two books:
It’s the series Grammaire Progressive du Français by CLE International, specifically the Intermediaire edition: textbook and answers key book. They are too good to be dismissed.
They deal with grammar without assuming you are a PhD candidate in Linguistics, the exercises are relevant and you can study 100% on your own.
Intermediate French: 11 learning strategies
#1 Write down your goals
To say them out loud or to think them do not count. You have to write them, preferably ink on paper.
A journal, a bloc note, an A4 white sheet that you’ll frame and hang somewhere at your place: as you prefer. But do it!
Each of us may have good reasons to attain an intermediate French, as from this level you can:
- go to live and work in Lyon,
- study in Luxembourg,
- speak comfortably with your Canadian in-laws,
- earn a plus (quite many companies give extra bonuses to their employees for each language mastered),
- travel to Maghreb,
- get hired by an international organization,
- read naturalist novels: Flaubert, Zola & friends,
- keep your brain fit when you’re sick and tired of sudoku,
- add a language to your CV, something very beneficial.
And according to your goals, establish your learning strategies.
If you feel like obtaining a French official certificate, you’ll have to be an ace in… everything.
If you’re merely interested in talking with people, you can confine yourself to the oral dimension.
And if you’re aiming at an intermediate French mostly to read Fred Vargas and Jean-Claude Izzo, reading comprehension is all you need to focus on.
#2 Care your orthography
Learn where to put accent marks and diacritics, learn by heart how words are written too. E.g. the thirteen ways to write the phoneme /o/.
#3 Work on your French pronunciation
Here you have some work to do. French is built on a series of sounds that are unknown to the mouth of an English native.
But the solution is the same, for Britons and Chinese and Martians alike: you have to train your mouth to acquire a French shaping.
Exercise is all you need. Constant exercise. The IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), in my humble opinion, is something you can happily ignore if you work with texts and audio tracks simultaneously.
#4 Explore the vastitude of the francophonie
French is spoken all over the world. When you’re close to an intermediate French, it’d be good to get a basic comprehension of all its varieties.
Well, if you have studied so far the French of the métropole, then it’d be meddling with the one from Quebec, Algeria, Belgium, Senegal, Madagascar, etc.
Actually, French is not one of those languages which varieties are distant from one another.
Perhaps the biggest hurdles come from verlan and juvenile jargon, stuff that, on the other hand, are problematic for native speakers too. 😆
#5 Dictations, dictations, dictations
If you believe they are relics from first grade, you’re wrong: not only you can very well find them in an exam but they’re also excellent detectors of language deficiencies.
Please bear in mind many Frenchmen are often making a lot of mistakes too. You can start practising at Dictée TV5 Monde.
#6 Speak French half an hour a day
If you have no good tutor in your neighbourhood, you can resort to Italki.
To resort to the Internet might seem cold, impersonal. Don’t fool yourself. The advantages are abundant:
- day and timing of your lessons are chosen by you;
- you can choose teachers and tutors from France, Reunion, Quebec, Madagascar, Tunisia, Vietnam, Switzerland, Guadeloupe, Belgium, Gabon or Vallée d’Aoste. You’re covered 24/7;
- you can filter by price, years of experience, location, didactic resources, etc;
- you decide what kind of lesson you want;
- it’s certainly cheaper than a private face-to-face lesson.
It’s hard to find a tutor you bond with.
Some are always praising you, whatever mess you do; some have a didactic scheme in mind and cannot abandon it even for a minute; some are true marshals, unforgiving at any minor mistake…
Italki is quite good at solving these issues: hundreds of tutors are just a click away, together with the evaluations of their previous students.
It’s not indispensable to sink whole days into studying: with two hours per week, you can progress magnificently.
#7 Watch out literary French
Literature is one of the main reasons a lot of people learn French: considering the insane amount of awesome literature, it’s easy to fall into the trap of reading the sacred cows before having risen to the challenge.
Do it only if you have abundant reserves of linguistic resilience, if you handle language-related frustration well. True literature is the province of C1, at least.
If I have to stop reading to look up a word more than five times per page, I quit it altogether and start playing with the first Golden Retriever I find around. 🐕
And not only it’s about words. It’s about sentence structure, français soutenu, rich cultural references: it’s about a hell of a thing! 😱
I myself was able to read stuff above my skills only with things I deeply loved: Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, the first two books of A Song Of Ice And Fire.
The passion gave me that linguistic resilience I hinted above.
#8 Perfectionism is the worse enemy of the French language student
If what you have in mind is to keep your mouth shut until mastering the language like George Perec, welcome to a lifetime of mutism. 🤐
You have to start talking as soon as possible, and when having an intermediate French, you should be a chatterbox.
It makes no sense to postpone: it’d be as silly as someone who wants to learn how to swim before to actually touch the water. 🏊♂️
And besides this, let walk the perfectionist path to its end. According to the same logic, you should shut up in English too: you’re a native speaker, yes, but do you manage English like Seamus Heaney or Ken Follet?
You see my point. You still have to go a long way before acquiring full mastery in English too. Well then, do you condemn yourself to a life of silence? 🙁
This is one of the most common issues a language learner encounters.; and the more serious and committed the students, the more inhibited they are.
Learning a language isn’t an experience to organize in a controlled environment like a lab, to transplant it to real-life only once you’re sure it will all be flawless.
Mistakes are a necessary part of your learning.
There are books and teachers, but eventually, you learn French to speak it, to bring it en plein air. Do not be afraid to speak and make mistakes.
#9 Travel extensively in the francophonie
No matter what they say, it’s not essential: if you’re familiar with this website, you know it’s one of my favourite sermons.
You don’t need to travel and live in China in order to learn Chinese, neither you need to relocate to France to learn French: nowadays, with all the technology at our disposal, China and France come to our dining room.
It’s needless to say that to travel to France, Senegal and Quebec would be an enriching experience anyway, albeit more from the cultural point of view.
And it has to be highlighted too that you do not need a big heap of money to travel there: you can either go luxury or cheap, as there’s plenty of options for both ways.
France and Belgium are just next doors, from the UK. A few pounds flight ✈️ and you’re in the land of Trappist beers and Camembert.
#10 Get news about your country, in French
It’s an easy and entertaining way to get hold of an intermediate level in French.
It’s interesting to see how the francophone press sees the UK and the Anglosphere. Positive sides and negative sides.
To be able to narrate your country to Frenchmen is an outstanding way to meet people and create closer ties: that makes you an informal British ambassador.
You don’t get paid by the Foreign Office, but still, you have a lot of fun. 🤭
#11 Use French anytime, anywhere
Now you need to turn yourself into a mix of creativity and gallantry.
If you want to make an intermediate French yours, seek and seize every chance to practice it. No language is learned without constant drilling.
Find below a list, albeit incomplete, of what I do:
- I tackle unwary tourists on the street, 🤭
- I get to talk with French speakers who had the privilege of sitting next to me in bars, restaurants, waiting rooms of all sorts,
- I look for recipes written in French even if what I need to prepare is orecchiette, 🍝
- I look for volunteer opportunities in France,
- whenever I visit a tourist attraction, I grab fliers and maps in French or I take part at the guided tours in French,
- in a tourist office, be in Málaga or Moscow or Newcastle, I ask for information in French,
- I get guidebooks in French, whatever the destination,
- if I get phone calls in the office and I detect the slightest French accent, I switch to French right away,
- I establish French-speaking days with my friends, native or decently fluent. Any interaction during these days must be in French. It’s a lot of fun, 😀
- I write down the shopping list in French,
- when I do groceries, I mentally translate to French everything I see on the shelves,
- mobile, computer, tablet and Kindle are all set to French,
- I go straight to the French version of any website I visit. 🔗
I hope this post about how to reach an intermediate French have provided some inspiration to you. I have distilled here what worked for me and my students, when you already have a basic grasp of the language.
If you have read all this, you:
- know that speaking French broadens your horizon, 👍
- wish to improve your linguistic abilities and the goal right before you is an intermediate French,
- are aware of the limits but also of the great advantages of teaching yourself a language. 💪
If you are not yet ready to tackle the intermediate French challenge, I’d invite you to read Basic French: How To Learn It On Your Own; and if you still need an ounce of motivation, then Intermediate French: How to Achieve it On your Own.
🙏 Please share with friends and enemies that do not know the potential of the French language 🙏
À très bientôt!
Your personal frenchifier,
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