How Long Does it take to Become Fluent in French?


Bonjour (ou bonsoir), and welcome to one of my most popular articles which does a thorough analysis on how long it takes to become fluent in French. This article has received thousands of hits because it evaluates one of the most common & complex questions many people have about learning French outside of "How can I improve my French pronunciation?" and "How do I get over my anxiety speaking French?". 

Before tackling how long it takes to become fluent, we'll first establish what fluency is, and talk about how difficult the journey may be ahead of you. Don't fear though, one of my biggest beliefs about language learning is that it can be fun and that anybody can become fluent in French! I hope you're ready to read, because this is a thorough article on the subject matter (if you're too lazy to read, simply scroll down to the heading "How Long to Be Fluent in French").

FrenchCrazy Fluency Scale:
Come visit me in Paris!
This proficiency scale is simply a condensed list of items based upon the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFRL). These standards are widely accepted across Europe. The framework was designed for those who need to certify their proficiency in a language, allowing others to recognize the range of your skills easily. The proficiency levels are not requirements to become a certain level, but rather language skills that people in a certain level are able to perform.

Beginner (A1): a.k.a Tourist Class 
A beginner is limited with vocabulary and grammar. Beginners may know simple greetings and phrases (Hello, how are you? what's your name? how old are you? etc...). They also know numbers, can usually tell time, and talk about the weather. Beginners can ask simple questions about other people (small talk), and express a sense of like and dislike. They may be able to talk to natives with extreme difficulty, and often with aides such as a pocket dictionary or memorization of phrases. Understanding natives is also difficult for beginners in an everyday environment. If spoken to slowly and directly (with conscious effort from a native), a beginner may fare well. Beginners can typically read "everyday signs" such as "no parking", "no smoking", "keep left", etc... However, reading or writing long texts is difficult. An immersion situation would be difficult for a beginner, but can be done.

Intermediate (A2-B1): Survivor
An intermediate language learner can construct phrases and statements. They can utilize phrases that deal with time, weather, location, desires, and dislikes with little to no difficulty. Intermediate speakers can use the present, past, and future tenses, however they still make errors. They can understand native speakers on certain topics, when spoken to directly. Intermediate learners can have simple transactions in shops, can order something to eat, and can use public transportation. They have sufficient vocabulary to deal with day to day topics, and can describe themselves (hobbies, backgrounds, personal experiences). These speakers can read familiar topics and get the gist about what occurs in a television show or film. Intermediate learners can survive in an immersion situation; however, they may still have difficulty understanding natives (and sometimes are hesitant to interact).

Advanced (B2-C1): Considered Fluent
An advanced learner can understand normal forms of media (TV, films, radio, newspapers, music) with little trouble. They can maintain conversation with natives and even be a part of conversations within noisy environments (i.e, more than one speaker or literal background noise). These learners can construct many sentences correctly, and change with a conversation. They can use the present, past, future, conditional mood, and imperfect as tools to advance a conversation. Fluent-Advanced learners may still have some trouble with the subjunctive, but can recognize its use. They can use phrases like "that's difficult to answer" to buy time and formulate what to say.

They can keep track of "favorite mistakes" and monitor them from time to time, or correct themselves when a Native doesn't fully understand. Advanced learners can handle reading long, constructed French articles, books, directions, etc. with little difficulty. For example, read this C1-level passage by Flaubert out loud and really test how much you know: Madame Bovary [extrait]. Don't expect to know every word, but try to understand it.

Advanced French learners could create short, clear narratives or compositions. They have a knack for picking up vocabulary within context, and know some specialized vocabulary for familiar topics. Advanced learners are confident with at least some aspects of their language, and can survive in an immersion situation with little to no difficulty. These speakers have the ability to communicate with Natives really well.

Highly Advanced (C2): Fluent
A fluent learner can understand all forms of media, converse with natives, be understood, and figure out context with little to no difficulty. They can talk in vibrant situations and can express themselves. They don't necessarily have to have a perfect French accent. These people understand everyday language used by other speakers. Fluent individuals are capable of reading long texts and can express themselves in writing. A fluent speaker thrives in an immersion setting, because they essentially have the tools to communicate with those around them on a daily basis.

Native: Mother Tongue 
The language is either your first, or you've been speaking it for the majority of your life. You understand vocabulary, you can make conversation effortlessly, read and write. Effortlessly does not mean you hesitate or you don't need to use a spell checker, it simply means you can carry on at a level that most other native speakers do so. You could still have an accent depending on where you learned the language. Nevertheless, this language is yours.

So what REALLY is French fluency?


Je n'aurais jamais cru que vous vouliez apprendre le français.
Now that you read those guidelines, how do you feel about where your level of French stands? Would it surprise you that according to those guidelines, it would take you 10,000 hours to become fluent?!? Don't panic, I'll refute that number below; keep reading.

Fortunately, (or unfortunately) fluency is a subjective term for everybody. Honestly by me writing out that fluency scale simply uses my opinion (and CEFRL standards) over someone else's definition of the same word. To some people, fluency is an end-all, mystical point which can never be achieved. To others, being fluent in French is simply communicating with people in everyday interactions. Additionally, there are a million different factors as to why someone becomes French fluent in 2 years as opposed to someone in 10; no two personal situations are equivalent.

You need to realize what values are most important for you and your French. If you want to be able to read great works by Hugo, Voltaire, or Flaubert then you’ll need to focus on improving your reading skills, French vocabulary, and grammar. If you simply want to be able to order a meal in France or buy tickets for something, you can pick up any type of phrase book and do this type of task within minutes. Fluency does not mean that you have to have perfect pronunciation, or you can never make mistakes. It does not mean that you do not hesitate or have a native pronunciation. It does not require fancy vocabulary on topics like engineering business, and politics, or hour long discussions in French. It means you can communicate with people and understand things which are important to everyday life in France. However, my version of French fluency places emphasis on all aspects of the language: reading, writing, speaking, and listening because I believe everybody should be well-rounded.

The problem about the French teaching culture in America is that nobody is ever good enough, and French people often dislike their language being mangled. Nonetheless, it’s your standards that really matter. If you want to learn a language in 3 months and call yourself fluent, by all means do so (there are popular language blogs claiming they can). If you realize that after you take two years of French, you may not be fluent, but you have plenty of tools at your disposal to go out and use the language, then more power to you.

How long to be French fluent?
The million dollar question, how long does it take to become Fluent in French? With French learning programs now named "Instant Immersion", "5-Minute French", and "French in 10-minutes a day", it's no wonder people misconceive how long it takes to become French fluent.

Short time spans are feasible if you pack up your belongings and you are residing in a country where the target language is spoken, or you work with the language often. These situations are called Immersion more or less and not many people can deny its language learning power. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that French fluency can be achieved in 3 months (without immersion) because if you have these sort of expectations with your language learning endeavors, you’ll become discouraged when it takes longer. However, the type of fluency which many people ultimately want to achieve is a matter of years as opposed to months. Realistically, without being in an immersion environment, I stick with the number of 5 years, which involves talking good courses and supplementing your knowledge with native speakers or time abroad.

Estimates:
Proficient = A2, B1
Very Proficient/Fluent = B2, C1, C2

Proficient in French via immersion (3-6 months)
Proficient in French via college courses/non-immersion (1-2 years, depending)
Proficient in French via high school courses/non-immersion (3-4 years, depending)
Very proficient - fluent in French via immersion (~2 years)
Very proficient - fluent in French without immersion, through classes (4-6 years at least)
Very proficient using a combination of immersion and other learning methods (variable)

A study by Horwitz asked undergraduate students: "If someone spent one hour a day learning a language, how long would it take him/her to become fluent?". Forty percent of the students questioned believed it would take 1-2 years. Horwitz describes this as "unrealistic" and indicates that students "who anticipate fluency in two years are destined for severe disappointment and thus would seem likely candidates for dropping out." Keep in mind, this study was performed on University students in Texas, taking formal courses.

French Fluency depends on several factors.
If you live in an area where French is predominantly spoken and you can have a good handling of the language within a few months to a year this situation is called immersion. And it's nothing new in the realm of linguistics. If you aren't living in a Francophone area (such as France or Québec for example), then fluency could take quite a while to become fluent depending on these other factors:
  1. The age when you first started speaking French. Studies have shown that earlier introduction gives speakers a better pronunciation. However the idea that children learn languages "faster" or "better" have been disproved by research. I provide scientific sources below. For more information, read more regarding this Critical Period Hypothesis. 
  2. How much effort and time you put into learning French. Motivation is a HUGE factor in learning a language. People who learn a language to communicate with people, travel, or experience a culture are more willing to handle the rigors of learning. Practicing everyday versus weekly... taking formal classes, quality of said classes. Think about this, somebody who spends an hour a day should learn more than a person who commits an hour a week. 
  3. How capable you are at learning another language. Everybody can learn another language however some people just have better methods to learning them. There are people out there who can speak four, five, or six different languages... then there are those who struggle at their mother tongue. The thing you may not realize is those who speak multiple languages did not magically gain them; they put time, effort, and hard work into obtaining those languages.
Never be discouraged to start a language due to your age! You are NEVER too young or too old to start a new language and anybody can do it! I am 20 years old and I just started learning Italian, allowing me to speak with my Italian girlfriend (luckily it is similar to French). Some people might be starting French as their 2nd or 3rd romance language - they know the rules, the vocabulary is similar... it may be quite easy because they have the experience with understanding other languages.

How hard is it to become fluent in French?
Any new language, including French can be quite difficult at first. You go from gaining a few words and phrases (like a baby) to becoming a "French Adult". It is a process. I think when people get frustrated learning French, it is due to the expectation of achieving a level to which their native language is. Adults who begin a language skip over the elementary stuff because it’s boring; however, the same elementary topics are arranged in normal language to create complex thoughts and conversations.

"When students rate the task of language learning as being relatively easy and rapidly accomplished, they are likely to become frustrated when their progress is not rapid. On the other hand, a belief that it will take an extraordinary amount of time to learn a language could be discouraging and cause them to make only minimal efforts" (Horwitz, 1988, p. 286). Overall, you may get frustrated, impatient, and tired of learning French. You may even contemplate quitting. If you do, you need to re-evaluate why you started learning French in the first place. Additionally, you need to incorporate fun interactions with the language! Obviously I'll suggest that you stick with French. Eventually you'll have enough vocabulary that if you stumble upon a French word you don't know then you can figure out the context.

Closing Comments:
I would advise that if you don't have the time commitment to learning French, then you need to figure that out now. Let me add that learning isn't something that you just do and then stop; languages are constantly evolving, and there's always so much more to learn! How many times has an adult told you they studied a language in high school but forget everything? That's because they haven't been using the language enough! If you're happy with just being able to communicate well, then it's possible to do so within two years to three years without immersion. Being totally serious, I've been learning English all my life and there's still words out there that I don't know... To me, there's no time concern with learning French because I'm a French learner for life and you should be one too. 

So yes, it is hard work; but I'm here to help. Check out this article: how to become fluent in French fast. This website also provides a French Language Learning section and Online French Resources to advance in the right direction.

If you have any comments can be posted below without any type of special subscription required.

References: 
Please Feel Free to Consult these and/or do your own research!
Birdsong, D. & Molis, M. (2001).On the evidence for maturational Constraints in second-language
     acquisition. Journal of Memory and Language. 44, 235-249.
Hakuta, K., Bialystok, E., & Wiley, E. (2003). Critical Evidence: A test of the critical-period
     hypothesis.
Hakuta, K. (2011). Educating language minority students and affirming their equal rights:
     Research and practical perspectives. Educational Reseacher, 40, 163-174.
     doi:10.3102/0013189X11404943
Horwitz, E. K. (1988). The beliefs about language learning of beginning university foreign language
     students. The Modern Language Journal, 72(3), 283-294.
Macswan, J., & Pray, L. (2005). Learning English bilingual: Age of onset of exposure and rate of
     acquisition among English language learners in a bilingual education program. Bilingual
     Research Journal, 29, 653-678. doi:10.1080/15235882.2005.10162857
Oyama, S. (1976). A Sensitive period for the acquisition of a nonnative phonological system.
     Journal of Psycholinguistic Research. 5, 261-283.
Penfield, W., & Roberts, L. (1959). Speech and brain mechanisms. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
     University Press.

35 comments:

  1. I've been learning French for almost 6 years now and I have to agree with you about your final point: "be a French Learner for life". There's a lot of stuff to learn and master!

    I've been living here in France with my husband for quite some time now. I would say that I'm at an advanced level of fluency (I can read, write, and speak!). It's true that the best way to learn a language is to live in the country; I've been getting exposure everyday, it's impossible to go along with my day without thinking in French.

    Thanks so much for the article, best wishes and keep up the good work.

    Susan

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  2. Anonymous11 July, 2012

    Hello, I just want to thank you for sharing your personal ideas with us, and the knowledge that you have acquired while going through the language learning process. I am just starting to learn the French language, but I am very motivated, I have additional resources as well as I will be attending classes at Michigan State University in the fall. I also have been to Quebec for the first time to visit a friend of mine who speaks the language fluently. I am excited to learn for myself and to one day hopefully be able to communicate in the French language with her. Thanks again for all of your information.

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    1. It is true that my "fluency scale" is not officially a standard, however I did actually base it upon the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, otherwise known as CEFR. Regardless, it does give you some knowledge of where you are in terms of learning a language.

      I am glad you're motivated!! Michigan State is actually a rival school in the B1G ten, coming from a Penn State Student here hahaha. Good luck with your studies, hopefully your friend will be impressed!!

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  3. Very good points!! I think it's true that some people flat-out expect to be fluent. Hell, not even half of us are "advanced" and "seasoned" in our own language!!

    I truly feel that immersion is the way to go. I've had 3 years of French in high school and a semester here in University, but I'm probably only between beginner and intermediate. Why? Because French was a joke in high school, but once you get competent teachers in college, you realize that you love it and that you may have it in you. That's why I'm going abroad next year: to find out. Sure, I know the present, past, future, conditional, imperfect, and some of that crazy subjunctive, but i still mess up y and en, and my pronunciation is awful. But that's why I'm learning, and that's how.

    If you care, you can do it as quickly as your mindset will let you. If one ever becomes fluent, it's because they want it.

    Good luck!

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  4. ^Hey! Thanks so much for the comment above! That's kind of what I was going for with this article. People think that languages are a piece of cake, it's not. It takes time and effort, nobody is going to put all that information into your head. One would be foolish to think high school French can teach you everything - but after my 5 years of High School French, I did feel prepared for the next step. Working, living, and studying in France for 3 summers in a row. Picking up French as my second major here in the U.S. My experiences in France have made my studies here 10 times easier.

    I'm glad to see you doing your part and going to France! You may be shy at first but really try to speak and interact with natives... it will be a very memorable experience that way :)

    Thanks for reading!

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  5. I love this site, yet I think your claim about the time it takes to achieve fluency is delirious. With all due respect, yes, French isn't easy, but five years!? Come on, I know people who achieved fluency in all forms of Mandarin Chinese in less than that! It does take time indeed, but if you take formal classes, I seriously believe two years might suffice.
    I never took said classes, only live in France part-time and practice weekly (if not motnhly) yet I am a "Skilled Survivor" (I am a gifted language learner and I'm a native Italian speaker, though. That makes learning French much easier).

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    1. Cool! Yes, the Italian definitely definitely helps because there are many "similar" words to French. See, it's completely different though because you actually visit France - you practice with people, you read signs, you order food, and your language skills florish. Most people don't do that. Now the "5 years" part is NOT at all delirious. A true definition of fluency is the way you speak Italian, effortlessly and seemlessly. Unless you live in a francophone country, 2 years isn't really possible.

      The problem with articles like this one here is that everybody is learning at a different pace, 5 years is a good average number, but some people it will take them 7 to 10 years believe it or not. I simply want people to start thinking about their journey in French immersion and know that the road ahead is long. To become an advanced learner in French, you and your friends have talent!

      Interesting fact, I actually started learning Italian about 5 months ago and I'm in Italy right now, this is to test my language learning methods as well as see how long it takes me to become fluent!

      Thank you for reading my article, the blog and the comments. I love to know what people think afterwards.

      Grazie mille e ciao da Brescia

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  6. Ive really been enjoying reading your site and the different articles as i have been teaching myself french for a while and spent a month in Paris studying aswell, and even though im very very far from being anywhere near fluent, i do disagree with you saying "Oh expect ATLEAST 5 years before youre even close to it". In fact, that sentence almost angers me with its blatant ignorance. If you half-assedly study a language for 5-10-15 whatever years, then you might learn it eventually and it may take ages, but if you as a dedicated learner really spend time studying it, either in a francophone country or at home, then it will take way less than 5 years. Take into consideration that, for example, the Japanese government only legally allow you to study Japanese in Japan for 2 years, until they expect you to be fluent and thus ready to move over to Universities if you wish to stay in the country on a student visa (I know this as ive lived there for 5 years as a child), and then you expect french to take 5 years? No offence but i think your francophone patriotism (for lack of a better word) has messed with your head, as Japanese is pretty much the hardest language an english speaker can learn ("backwards" sentence structure, THREE new alphabets, honorifics, completely foreign vocabulary, etc), whilst French, while being hard, is far from that distant, sharing many words and an atleast relatively similar sentence structure (compared to Japanese) with English. So i cannot agree less with your article. While you do point out many logical things, and your classification of the different stages of fluency may be correct, the amount of "time" it will take is incorrect according to me, atleast. And many people i know that are fluent in french (now) and have spent way less time than that, many of them even living in France studying/working in the language.

    //Jacob

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    1. Salut Jacob!

      What angered me a bit is that you incorrectly quoted me and yet you USED quotation marks in your comment. I noted above, "without living in a francophone country" I.E the United States / Brazil / China... these types of places... it would take atleast 5 years. IF you lived in France, Canada, Switzerland, etc... it will obviously take less time. So your Argument about going to Japan for 2 years is an invalid because somebody living in France for 2 years should be fluent by then (unless they only spoke English to everybody). I would spend 2 months of my summer in France and advance my language skills a great deal.

      Another thing, is please read the definition of fluency again. The problem with many people who disagree with me for this article is that they consider being Intermediate/Advanced (I.E, getting by fine) as fluent. These are different domains. Do you think that within 2 years (of not living in a francophone area) you could write.. oh let's say a 10 page paper in French. You can write those in English just fine, could you make clear concise arguments in French? Or could you write a work of non-fiction. People often look past writing but writing is an ACTIVE form of language use while reading is a PASSIVE form (you simply comprehend what somebody wrote for you). Could you read an entire novel?... understand a legitimate French movie? Go on an hour long discussion with people about whatever the hell they're talking about? Could you understand French teenagers who use slang expressions and verlan while speaking fast? These things give you a better picture of what "fluency" is defined as here.

      Agreeing or disagreeing is perfectly fine. I always appreciate the comments. Does my French patriotism get to my head? A bit, but I know French isn't the hardest language out there... it's just a bit hard for beginners to pronounce is all :) I grant respect to my one friend who is learning Greek, Biblical hebrew, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Latin, French, and Italian. He's my idol.

      Johnny Boy

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    2. Salut!

      Apologies for that incorrect quote, but i figured it would be fine as this isnt a paper for school and wanted to get my point across, albeit a bit rudely now when i look back on it i do admit, and apologize.
      What you say is true, and i apologize for having incorrectly interpreted your article, but its just that from what i can gather, you dont really stress the fact that "this is only if you dont live in a francophone country". It may just be because im from Europe, but i know a great deal of people who has/will be moving to France more or less permanently just out of interest for the language, so leaving out such a bit, i just figured in my tired head that you kind of insinuated that it would be only a slight difference if you did it in a francophone country.

      As for the definition of fluency, I dont think i misinterpreted it, even though i know many people do. But if it came across that way, im once again sorry. I guess i just take the actual "fluency" rather lightly, as it didnt take me too much time nor effort to learn english to a fluent standard despite it officially being my second language (and my fluency has been accredited by a test, mind). But again, naturally, French is harder to learn to such a degree than English was for me as a native swedish speaker. But anywho, you say that after 2 years of not studying in a francophone country, could i write a 10 page paper? I honestly dont know, as ive never learnt a language without some kind of immersion, i must admit. But i guess i incorrectly think i would be able to, albeit maybe not up to a university standard. But this may very well be incorrect and me being too optimistic about human language learning.

      I do also want to "point out" from my perspective, to anyone reading this, that even if its hard initially for you to learn a language, dont give up, and especially not with the "oh im not meant to learn languages" excuse, as to me, thats bullshit. People may be more or less motivated or have an easier or harder time to learn stuff, but nothing is impossible, and EVERYONE can learn a second language if you just take the time and put in the effort required.

      Either way, your friend seems to be rather a smart guy, haha. I could never see myself learning all of that. Maybe another language after french, so im a "multilingual/polyglot" instead of "just" trilingual, but to be fair, i dont really see any need to learn anything else than french once im done, as theres nothing else i have such passion for in this world than french culture. So i guess we are rather alike (although i have no real french heritage except some relatively far off francophone belgians).

      Merci pour votre réponse, et j'espère que vous passez une bonne journée!
      //Jacob

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  7. Nice article. I am currently at B1 and I've been looking at some novels with very basic French. It appears that I can get by young adult novels, and the types of Le Petit Prince. I definitely couldn't get by with your Madame Bovary extract.

    Regarding whether one can learn a language to fluency in 2 yrs vs. 5 yrs vs. 10 years, it really depends on the person. I am in my 2nd month of intensive French classes in France. There was a 10 month gap between my first month and now (the 2nd month), so I have been in France for a total of 12 months. During the 10 month gap, I was in an English speaking environment, so I actually forgot some of the French I had learnt.

    Now I dedicate about 40 min everyday (of my commute) to learning random, new words (not too random, it's a word list I found for O-level or A-level examinations while searching or French wordlists online) My list has about 3600 words. I hope to have learned about 2000 by the end of March (that's 20 words retained/day, every day). The written/grammar aspects of my current B1 class are a bit above my head, but my teachers thought it could be a good challenge. I appreciate it, and I have bought a CLE grammar workbook to complement my classwork. My aim is in about 4-5 weeks, to be pushed to a B2 level. I have to admit, it is becoming harder to see a difference in my French (hence why I think I need to start doing things like reading books on a regular basis) but if I push hard enough, I think I can up my pace. There is one guy in my class (has arguably the widest diction and most advanced grammar) who says he takes his notebook to bars in the evenings, and used words he learned in class in his conversations. I think that's amazing dedication (thought I don't dare replicate it) that will bear him a good many fruits. My point is, there are different types of 'serious' learners. If one pushes hard enough, in whatever way suits one's personality, who knows what a year can do?

    p.s. The cramming words is something I've done in the past for English, which is my second language. At the start of one summer when I was a teenager and living in an African country, I was getting SAT verbal scores like I came out on an inner city American education (and not doing well). By the end of the summer, I had an above average prep school score. My brother, on the other hand, did the same exercise and he came out it all with an elite prep school score. 3 months. 4000 words. Grammar drills. Just do it!

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  8. Very useful article, it's silly to believe you could become FLUENT in a language with 6 months.

    Mark

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  9. I'm talking to the English speakers :
    It's not that hard to become fluent in French !
    Remember that up to 60% of English words have a similar meaning in French
    The only thing you have to do is to
    -watch tv shows on the internet
    -listen to music
    -read newspapers
    -watch comedy stand ups
    ....

    I'm french so of course it's easy for me to think this way, but I'm fluent in English and Spanish and I always improved in these foreign languages by watching documentaries, tv shows, reading newspapers
    Anyone can reach the level of understanding 100% of a documentary in less than a year.
    What do you like ?
    Crime Investigations ?
    Nature and Health ?
    Humour ?

    Then go for it and in less than a year you will be totally fluent !

    Alfred from Paris

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    1. Great Insight Alfred. I actually already wrote an article related to this:
      http://www.frenchcrazy.com/2012/09/how-to-become-fluent-in-french-fast.html

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  10. This is great..."Native French speakers are the best for gaining fluency. " It definitely is the best way to learn a language. I use an online language exchange site for this, http://www.easylanguageexchange.com/ best thing I have done to become fluent.
    Yes it is scary at first but the more you get into it, the better you get!

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  11. My dad moved to France while I was in high school and I spent two summers in Europe, and the French language completely eluded me initially! However, after a month, we knew enough to get the right food (and 6 croissants, not 16!) and find out where we were going. I can only imagine that it's incredible to learn French in Paris.
    Thanks-
    Jonny

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  12. I am relatively new to French. I first started thinking I could actually learn French with podcasts, books CD's ect. I did this for a year and learned very little. Mostly colors, numbers, useless phrases and basic sentence structure. Then I purchased Rosetta Stone levels 1-5. I am only 6 months in to it and feel I have learned far more than I could have ever done on my own. I study with the software at least 2 hours every day and play the games at least 3 to 4 times a week. At work I listen to the companion CD on my I-Pod for each section as I progress for a good 40 hours a week. and finally I watch movies in French every night and read Paris Match magazine for practice. I know I seem a little long winded here, but what I would really like is an informed opinion on whether this is a descent effort or am I setting myself up for a long term disappointment?

    P.S. I try speaking French as much as possible at home with my wife who took 5 years of French in school. However she doesn't always understand me.

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    1. Salut! I understand your question very well; you don't want to continue putting in all this time into French and then later down the road realize your efforts weren't useful.

      Honestly, the amount of hours you dedicate towards French is GREAT. However it's not all about logging hours, it's also about getting useful inputs and learning from contexts. Your wife is a great start to help you practice. Let her know how dedicated you are to learning and how much you'd appreciate if she'd speak more with you. In the long run, ideally, you should make a small support group or try to find a native speaker (somewhere). Rosetta stone seems to be doing a good job for your language progress, I actually prefer a program called Fluenz French, but that's a discussion for some other time :)

      A famous linguist, Stephen Krashen, said that the best type of material to study is just at your level of proficiency and then some more. This way you're constantly reinforcing what you already know AND adding in more material to keep you challenged and learn new concepts/words. So even though in the first year, you only learned "colors", basic sentences, and greetings, etc... this is how everybody gets started! It doesn't make sense, from day one, to watch French news or listen to natives you don't really understand. Subconsciously, you're learning the language but you don't leave with much to use immediately.

      So are you setting yourself up for disappointment? No you're not (unless you initially planned that this process would take a year and now you are a bit disappointed). I love your work ethic, and a good work ethic translates to MOTIVATION. You need to realize why you started learning French in the first place and if you don't have a super great reason then make one! Tell yourself you're going to France in the next year or two and you really want to practice with natives – order food in French, buy museum tickets in French, understand a French newspaper, chat with a local. Even better, go to France for a short period of time and then that'll really get you motivated to continue!

      Lastly, remain realistic, mistakes are O.K and the journey ahead will take a couple more years, but one day you'll wake up and realize you're happy with the amount of knowledge you know. Even better, look at what you ALREADY know in French and compare yourself to when you didn't know French. You've probably came a long way, that's something to be proud of.

      Here's a few more things that may interest you:
      (24 HOUR LIVE FRENCH NEWS) http://www.bfmtv.com/video/bfmtv/direct/
      (Articles for Kids - good for beginners) http://www.lesclesjunior.com/
      (Kinda simple articles to read) http://fr.yahoo.com/
      (My Phonology Article to help with pronunciation) http://www.frenchcrazy.com/2011/12/french-phonetics.html

      I hope my response helps out! Keep checking around this site, maybe you'll enjoy some of the music I've translated. Also, don't hesitate to respond to this message if you have anything else to mention! You honestly can reach me through any comment on this website because I have to moderate everything.

      Bonne Journée :)

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  13. Hey! Just came across your article and found it really interesting to read. I'm 21 and have moved to France in the last six months and almost giving up on myself and my French, I don't know why I thought it'd be fine and I'd pick it up fairly quickly because in school I used to love French, and that was about 5 years since I've sat in a French class. Anyway my biggest problem is shyness, in general I'm super shy even in English, and easily embarrassed, so the thoughts of using the very little French I have with native speakers sends me into a huge ball of stress and anxiety. I know it's completely irrational, and it doesn't help that I chicken out and get my boyfriend who is in French to do all the talking. Has anyone tips for shyness and overcoming the first initial stage of speaking French?

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    1. Hiya Katie!

      It's funny because I actually already wrote an article on something like this, maybe it'll help:
      http://www.frenchcrazy.com/2011/11/scared-to-speak-french-anxiety-tips.html

      To better answer your question more personally, I'm assuming you're learning French to communicate with you boyfriend and other French people while you reside there? Those are some pretty strong motivational factors which you can hold dearly to help you through these times.

      Believe it or not, most people would be very willing to help you in France! If you are struggling when trying to order something, or simply at a loss for words, French people will help you out. I think the biggest thing that will help your French is to ditch your boyfriend for a day or two and go out into town and actually try to communicate with people on your own. When you realize you can talk to others without your crutch (boyfriend) then you'll gain a sense of independence. If you're not up for that yet, then you can start by listening in to conversations your boyfriend is having with others and add to it. That way, you aren't the focus of the discussion, but you still get to practice listening, speaking, etc..

      Overall, to better boost your confidence requires that you have a sense of general understanding in French. Go buy a grammar book and practice... listen to music, go to the cinema, and watch TV. And most importantly, have fun with it!

      Let me know how it goes / if you still have any questions!
      Oh, and thanks for reading my blog :)

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  14. John,

    I appreciate how you defined fluency several ways as this (coming from a Second Language teacher) always sparks a big debate.

    For anyone hoping to attain fluency quickly, let me tell you, it can be done! I went from A1 to C1 in 6 months. True story.

    But it takes some very specific ingredients:
    1) you must immerse yourself in the language by living in the country WITH the people who speak your target language
    2) you must be open to making mistakes, LOTS of them!
    3) you must know your own L1's (native language) grammar VERY well
    4) you must be able and willing to work VERY HARD

    I studied in an immersion program for 4 hours a day, I watched approximately 4 hours of TV every night and I began reading a "real" novel within the 2nd week and read every night for 2 to 4 hours.

    I worked very very hard. Granted, I was studying French (my L1 is English). When I tried to do the same thing in China, it didn't quite workout. I only achieved a B1/B2 standard after 10 months of living in Beijing, so this is not a plug and play solution, but have faith, as adults, we have the ability to do most things we set our minds to.

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    1. Hey ESOL Lecturer!

      I'm glad to see a teacher sharing the same thoughts about fluency, I'm sure you tell your students something along the same lines.

      Learning a language requires a lot of hard work but it can be done! If you have that form of perspective then you set yourself up for success. If you think you're going to be spoon-fed the language then it's a recipe for disaster.

      Thanks for your comment!

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  15. I agree with the description but I think most people will never be truly C2 because that pretty much means being perfectly bilingual. I'm at C1 right now and pretty happy. :)

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  16. now i'm start learning frecnh cause i'm gonna join French Foreign Legion

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  17. Every language is about learning for life as languages - thankfully - are alive and changing. I am still learning in my native language. But French... When it comes to french i have so much more to do! I try and visit often and I try and read and write a little every day - but the grammar, oh the grammar!!! There are days when I am about to give up... But then I remember that the french also make mistakes, I regain some confidence, and I am out there again. Your article boosted my motivation :-) Even now that I just moved to Taiwan I have found myself a French network to make sure I don't just write to my friends in France but also practice speaking... The more I use it the more comfortable I get and the more am OK with saying the wrong thing - because I have a chance to correct it (the beauty of seeing people face to face is that I can immediately see on their facial expression if I made a big mistake or not....

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  18. All very interesting except the conditional is not a tense, it's a mood.

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    1. Yes, you are correct.. I get so used to calling it a tense.

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  19. Thank you for this amazing article, it was of great help! Anyway I want to study Law in french, so I'm taking a gap year to learn the language first. Do you think I can do it? And how can I?

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    1. Hi Mena! Sorry I didn't see this until now... You can certainly advance your language skills quite a bit within a year. Do you plan on being in France at all during your gap year?

      I would recommend immersing yourself abroad. I took French classes at the C.L.A de Besançon and they were very helpful, however you can find can probably find language courses throughout the country. Maybe do some of those and then supplement your lifestyle by just hanging out with French friends on the daily.

      I can't imagine you preparing yourself for Law in French any other way (besides maybe brushing up on some law terminology?). You'll really need to be comfortable with the language and know how society functions in France!

      I hope this helps somewhat :)

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  20. I think this is a very informative article and it rings very true to my experience. I've always wanted to learn French and the experience of slowly painstakingly getting there is something im still actively working on. I moved to Montreal 2 years ago, partially with that goal in mind. Although for my first year I was very lazy about learning French, in my second year I took 2 undergraduate courses in French at my university, coupled with working in a French environment and hearing it around me every day, my laziness has slowly transformed and reading your guidelines above, I would place myself as just about ready to walk into the intermediate category. French will be my third language, but my first romance language so I'm not too daunted because even though the spelling and grammar can be difficult as a native Russian speaker I feel I can do it. A few months ago to give my efforts to learn French some boost I started my own blog to try and chronicle my journey through it.
    http://speakfrenchwithme.com

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  21. Nice article. I am currently at B2 and I practice my French with several friends I've met in this language-exchange website:
    http://www.languageforexchange.com/

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  22. It's funny I came across this article, because I was just pondering this very question. I started learning French about 20 years ago in school, then stopped. I started learning again, about 6 months ago, and I feel like progress is so slow. Reading this was reassuring...I'm happy to hear that it's 'normal' to take several years to become fluent. Thank you for such a thoughtful article. --Michelle

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  23. I loved this article! Everything in here is true. I speak fluent English and Spanish and I am currently going into my 3rd year of French. Believe it or not, I only know how to read it and speak some of it. I still need a lot more practice. I still can't understand a native speaker, but I know what is going on in a movie, though.
    My French 1 and 2 teacher in high school spoke English, Spanish and French ( as her third language), too! She said it took her 7 years for her to be considered ¨fluent¨. She speaks it with an accent, though, and said she is still learning new words each day.

    So yeah, I still need around 4 more years to go! :)

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  24. If you study the language every like a 9-5 job and the do homework it would probably take 3, 6 and 12 months to reach levels B2, C1 and C2 respectively. (for romance languages like French).

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  25. Anonymous30 May, 2014

    I think this article gives some very realistic advice as a lot of people (including me in the past) thought it would just 'happen' with a little study and a little exposure. People often live in countries they weren't born in and never learn the language of their adopted country simply because they remain within the prism of their mother tongue (family, media etc) and don't make an effort to learn the new language.

    Reading the comments has also been useful. I passed a B1 French exam a few months back after finally changing my study habits, and I intend on going a lot further. I've been studying for years on and off and my advice from those years of not so very good study (too much stopping and starting) is remain consistent day in day out, set goals and work at it as it's only been this year that i've made some decent progress by doing so.

    Thanks for the article! (on my way to B2 and beyond)

    Steve (aka petermollenburg)

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