How I Learn Languages · Language-Learning

Formulating a French Study Plan

I’ve been learning a few thing this summer, including how to build websites (check out this site I made for my dad’s small business), some basics of layout design, and–most important for this coming year–French. Since it’s mid-way through the summer, I thought I should evaluate what I’ve been doing, formulate an actual plan and set some learning goals.


I divide my evaluation into two parts: comprehension (input) & production (output).  In each part, I include a “feedback” section that discusses how I’m checking my reading/listening comprehension and my writing/speaking.

I. Comprehension


Japanese Woodblock Print in French: 

For Christmas last year, my boyfriend gave me a volume of Japanese woodblock prints with explanations in French and accompanying poetry translated into French. So I learn French vocabulary and grammar while learning about Tokugawa-era Japan through illustrations! What a great gift 🙂

  • Feedback?
    • The pictures help me see if I’m understanding the French descriptions correctly. Not 100% but close.

French webpages:

Screenshot 2016-06-25 16.09.02

My Google account is set on French, so usually the first results I get are in French. That’s good, because I accidentally click on them, curse myself, and then suck it up. (This is part of the “language bubble” learning strategy–where you surround yourself with as much of your target language as possible, so you have to use it by default.)

  • Feedback?
    • What’s great is that most of these pages (like the one pictured above) were written in English first, so I can read them side by side and check my reading comprehension as I go along.
    • Or I can Google Translate them to get an English approximation–not perfect, but pretty close. A Wikipedia article I read with the help of Google Translate:
      • Screenshot 2016-06-27 06.36.46

French Social Media:

Since last year, I’ve been following a number of French pages on Facebook, including the Humans of ParisFrench Embassy in Taiwan, a French Buzzfeed, Best Vines, and even Carrefour Belgium. I set them to appear at the top of my newsfeed. Recently, I’ve also begun to populate my Instagram feed with French accounts, including a few lifestyle bloggers (e.g. Daphne ModeAndTheCity), French photographers (e.g. @ViragePartiel), and a handful of agglomerate accounts related to the region I’ll be in (e.g. NordDecouverte). One of the frustrating things is that even French instagrammers will write in English to reach a broader audience, so I had to look around to find accounts that actually used French… at least 90% of the times. I’ve also started venturing into the comments section! I wish more language courses would teach people to read social media.

  • Feedback?
    • Some of these pages are bilingual (English/French or Chinese/French) so I can easily check my comprehension.
    • If I don’t understand something even after checking it in multiple dictionaries and Google images (which I can do instantaneously on my combo-dictionary app), I’ll ask native speakers in HiNative (a mobile-friendly Q&A community for language learners) or WordReference Forums (amazing, but non-mobile-friendly platform).



I’ve raved about this app before, but I’ll do it again. This is THE app for people trying to communicate like a real person. They pull REAL CONTENT from Youtube, then subtitle it in English and the target language, then allow you to click on any word in the subtitles to see a definition (and example sentences) tailored to the context. Otherwise, I would be spending time trying to guess what they said in French and then what they meant in English. The answers are THERE already and I can just focus on learning the language.

I’ve been watching one video a night before bed, sticking to the “Everyday Life” genre so I learn to talk about things in… every day life. They have excerpts from entertaining sitcoms and also videos from children’s shows, which will come in handy as I’ll be teaching French children starting this fall! I use IWillTeachYouALanguage’s method for studying (read: getting the most out of) dialogues.

RFI’s Journal en Français Facile

As I wake up absurdly early in the morning , I need something to occupy myself until everyone else wakes up. I don’t like staring at screens that early, so… nothing better than listening to French radio? Probably every student of French knows about this free resource– Radio France International’s “Easy French News” series, where newscasters speak more clearly and slowly than they would otherwise. I usually just listen to the first five minutes, then listen again, looking at the transcript to see what words I missed. I then use Google Translate to make sure I’m correctly interpreting the contents. Then listen again.

  • Feedback? Absolutely. Both my listening materials were designed for students of the language, so the feedback loop is there.

II. Production


I write ~one email a week in French and occasionally comment in French on the Facebook page of the teaching assistants who’ll be in the same academic region as me. I also write in French when I’m asking questions about the language in apps/forums. I refer to threads on WordReference Forums and good ol’ Google search to find idiomatic ways to express myself. But other than that, neither much writing nor feedback.


I considered finding a tutor/language exchange partner, since they make it so much easier to get feedback. But I’m not the most mobile person right now (I’m in central Jersey and don’t like driving around) and I don’t want to spend money on an online tutor when I’ll be in the country in a few months. (I did have a great tutor at Yale though!)

So I’ve been making do with…

trying to reproduce the dialogues in FluentU. I.e. after watching a video, I look at the English subtitles and trying to translate them back into French. This exercise helps me realize what I don’t know how to say and therefore burns it into my memory.

flashcards with colloquial expressions. I put phrases I learned from FluentU or social media into my flashcards with English on the front and French on the back. I have really been slacking on reviewing them though (my eternal problem with flash cards).

thinking and talking to myself in French, a practice more common than you’d think among language learners! As education expert Daniel Willingham put it, one of the best ways to learn is to

study [your subject] in the same way that you anticipate that you will need to think about it later.

Thinking and talking to yourself is exactly that.

For instance, when I looked at the following woodblock print, I said to myself “I wonder if those people with umbrellas carry umbrellas around with them all the time? Or when they felt it was raining? There weren’t weather reports back in the day, so I wonder how they knew it would rain.”


Sometimes, I’ll try to describe the print in my own words and then see what words the descriptions use.

Another day, when I noticed that the street lamps were on during the daytime, I wondered to myself in French about why the lights were on.

From my Instagram

I didn’t know how to say the street lamp “is on” so I made a mental note to look it up when I got a chance. (Seems like “allumé” is the word for that!)


It has become clear that the vast majority of my studying has been on comprehension and NOT on production. I’m OK with this being the case, since I expect production will replace comprehension as the core of my learning in France. But I need to up my “production quota” and also refine my goals for comprehension.

Goal 1:  to become very proficient at understanding colloquial French. On a blog from previous teacher assistant, I read that the most difficult thing for her in the beginning was understanding the people she interacted with–whether that was the teachers at her school during lunchtime or the secretary in the office, becausetheytalkedsodarnfast! Ideally, I would have zero problems understanding normal people by the time I get to France. (*Ideally*) This means I’ll want to:

  • spend more time on FluentU: maybe 2-3 videos a day instead of 1
  • spend more time reading (and learning to understand) posts and comments on social media
  • test out my listening skills on non-learning materials by watching other videos every week or so.
    • This is more an excuse to watch videos I really want to watch 😉
    • I plan on working through Youtube videos by this French girl who talks about her studies of Korean, and watching Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis, a film that not only broke box office records in France, but also pertains to the region I’ll be in.

I’ll be keeping formal materials to a minimum, which is alright since that’s ALL we learned from in French class. Formal reading materials are also the default reading material I encounter it in my daily Google searches. From now on, I’ll just focus on the first 2mins of the RFI radio show, where they summarize all the news items.

Goal 2: Up my “production quota.” Since I’m studying materials that are rich in real-life vocabulary, grammar, and expressions, I have opportunities to put them to use in my own life. I don’t expect miraculous gains, but I do want to:

  • review my flash cards regularly: for now, I’ll reserve Mon and Thu mornings for them.
  • get into the habit of thinking/talking to myself in French.
  • write down 2-3 thoughts a day (whether that be social media comments or observations of squirrels in the park) and get them corrected on HiNative/WordReference

At least that’s the plan for now!

2 thoughts on “Formulating a French Study Plan

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