I started casually learning French in the summer of 2019. I became more dedicated to practice in January of 2020. Here I document the tools and resources I have used and use for learning, advice I would have given myself when starting, and a mixed set of notes I've taken down during my studies.
For reading, I either get French books out of the library or I use an e-reader that can translate French > English by tapping on a word. This is very useful, although it can slow you down if you just want to practice trying to read uninterrupted, reading in your head in your target language.
Ankiº is a software program for helping with spaced repetition. It's most commonly described as a digital flashcard system. It's quite useful for learning new words and sentences. I generally use pre-created decks which can be found on AnkiWeb . I have had more luck learning from the decks that offer full sentences; it helps construct a context and is a good challenge when it comes time to translate from your native language to your target language.
Using an Assimilº book ("New French with Ease") has been useful. These books are expensive to buy, but I got a copy from my library with the audio files and a digital version of the book.
Improving listening can be intimidating. Podcasts are helpful. After a few months, the Inner French podcast was on regular rotation for me. I find the topics interesting and important, and it is motivating when you realize that you are starting to understand more than you miss.
If I was to advise myself in starting from scratch again, I would note that jumping between resources at the start is normal; you just want to find the fastest way to learn, and avoid the hard work that you inevitably have to do. Then, you find resources that work for you, and you stick with them, until they no longer work for you. Then you move on and repeat the process. I would also tell myself to start actually practicing with people / finding tutors online sooner (even though it is intimidating.)
Verbs / Tenses
Verbs is a large topic that can't be covered easily. Instead, This is a short section on the verb tenses, with a singular example for each.
Indicates present tense action. This tense corresponds to the following three
English present tense forms: I buy; I am buying; I do buy. To say
I watch and
am watching in English is to use two different present tenses. In French this is
commonly represented in a single tense:
Le présent progressif ("in the middle")
It is possible (albeit, more specific) to give extra weight to the "present"
part of the verb using
être en train de before an infinitive verb.
"I am in the middle of working" becomes "Je suis en train de travailler."
Le passé récent ("just happened")
This tense is sometimes known as "The immediate past."
In English, the immediate past is constructed with the combination of
past participle: "I have just finished my work, why are you making me do
In French, we operate similarly to the présent progressif (the use of
de), to express something that has just happened in the present: by combining a
venir de +
we have just eaten becomes:
Nous venons de manger.
Le passé simple
Le passé simple, also known as le passé historique, is a French past tense that is only used in written language. It has the same meaning as the passé composé; it talks about a completed, one-time action in the past.
The Passé Composé (The "Composed Past")
We use the passé composé to talk about one-time, completed actions that took place in the past.
The past tense is formed by using the present tense of avoir or etre (it becomes an
"auxiliary") in combination with the the past participle of the verb in
Passé Composé gets its name from the composition of auxiliary and
|Il a acheté un portable.||He bought a phone (lit. he has bought a new phone).|
|Ne n'avons pas fini^||we have not finished|
As usual, there are exceptions. Use
Être instead of
Avoir with certain verbs
(often those indicating movement): aller, sortir, venir, partir, descendre,
tomber, naitre, devenir, arriver, monter, mourir, retourner:
Je suis allé = I went.
Nous sommes partis = we left.
As usual, there are many irregularities you just have to memorize. For example,
I learned is
The L'imparfait (see: Imperfective aspect) is used for describing states and continuous, ongoing or repeated events in the past. The L'imparfait is often used for telling stories. It is to the Future simple as The Passé Composé is to the *Future Proche*; in this case, verb endings are changing and we are not creating auxiliaries from avoir/etre.
Quand il était petit, Lucas aimait beaucoup les gâteaux.
> When he was small, Lucas liked cake a lot.
Nous parlions au téléphone.
> We were talking on the phone.
L'imparfait: We were talking on the phone -> nous parlions au téléphone Passé Composé: We talked on the phone -> nous avons parlé au téléphone Conditional Past: We would talk on the phone -> nous parlerions au téléphone
The imperfect tense is conjugated by using the present-tense stem of a verb in
nous form (that is, in the first person plural form,
we), and adding
different endings depeneding on the pronoun:
Ils/Elles corresponds to:
Corresponds to the "past perfect tense" in English. Used to talk about an action or situation that took place before another past action, and so, this tense is often used in conjuction with another past tense to establish an order of events.
The Plus-que-parfait is constructed by combining the imperfect form of avoir and etre as the auxiliary verb, followed by the participe passé of the main verb:
Elle avait beaucoup travaillé avant de pouvoir jouer le morceau parfaitement.
It is quite similar to using the passé composé, except that the auxiliar is the past tense of avoir or etre.
L'imparfait vs Passé Composé
I find it difficult remembering when to use which verb tense for the past. I think for now, I understand the following:
Use of "ed"
This is not a hard and fast rule so much as a useful pointer. In English, past
tense verbs that end in
ed likely correspond to Passé Composé. For example, you
liked your room (tu as aimé ta chambre). In this example, we have a statement
that describes a one time, completed action in the past as noted above in the
section on the Passé Composé.
Sense of Narrative/Ongoing-ness
In contrast with the above, in a more narrative, continuous sort of conversation, one might say you were liking your room. (tu aimais ta chambre). Here, the example indicates that we are indeed "describing states and continuous, ongoing or repeated events in the past". The person was enjoying/liking the room they were staying in; it is a state of being that is continuous. Further, at least to me, this almost feels like a story or narrative, as if the account could go on ("you were really liking your room when all of a sudden you realized there was mould in the ceiling!")
...She was liking her room; she was reading in her favourite chair every night and was using the new bookshelf too.
(elle aimait sa chambre; elle lisait dans sa chaise préférée tous les soirs et utilisait aussi la bibliothèque.)
For me, Keywords like was, were, and used to are possible indicators that L'imparfait may need to be used. This is a loose rule, as it seems in general that English does not have an imperfective tense.
My hunch is relatively confirmed by page 303 of Assimilº:
|French Tense||English Tense||French||English|
|Passé Composé||Past simple||J'ai regardé||I looked|
|Passé Composé||Present perfect||J'ai regardé||I have looked|
|L'imparfait||Past continuous||Je regardais||I was looking|
|L'imparfait||Past frequentative||Je regardais||I used to look|
|Le futur||Future simple||Je regarderai||I will look|
|Le futur||Future continuous||Je regarderai||I will be looking|
Assimil also aims to point out that French reduces the number of tenses, combining two in english into one, as above.
Futur Proche (Near Future | aux.)
The Future Proche, also called The Future Composé, is used to describe actions in the near future. The construction of the future proche is similar to the passé composé, in that we are combining a conjugated auxiliary (Aller) with a verb infinitive.
|I am going to walk||Je vais marcher|
|We are going dancing||Nous allons danser|
|He will eat||Il va manger|
Futur Simple (Simple Future)
The futur simple corresponds to using "I will ---" in English. It allows one to say things in French such as "I will be able to..." or "I will walk".
This future tense is "created" by adding conjugations of the present tense suffixes of avoir (-ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez, -ont) to the infinitive of a verb. In this way, it is called "Simple" in that there is no auxiliary.
|Person||-er verbs||-ir verbs (finir)||-re verbs (vendre)|
|1st person singular (I)||j’aimerai||je finirai||je vendrai|
|2nd person singular (you)||tu aimeras||tu finiras||tu vendras|
|3rd person singular (he/she/it)||il/elle/on aimera||il/elle/on finira||il/elle/on vendra|
|1st person plural (we)||nous aimerons||nous finirons||nous vendrons|
|2nd person plural (you)||vous aimerez||vous finirez||vous vendrez|
|3rd person plural (they)||ils/elles aimeront||ils/elles finiront||ils/elles vendront|
As usual, look out for exceptions such as:
|Pronoun||Infinitive||With Avoir ending||English|
|Ils||aller||Ils iront||they will go|
|Nous||avoir||Nous Aurons||they will have|
|Nous||faire||Nous Fairons||They will do/make|
|Tu||etre||Seras||You will be|
|Il||pouvoir||pourra||He will be able to|
Verb Moods (unfinished)
The following sections describe verb moods.
The conditional tense is largely analogous to the use of the English would.
The conditional is formed by adding the endings of the
(L'imparfait) to the stem of a verb in the
futur simpl form.
|We would play||Nous jouerions|
|She would dance||Elle danserait|
|You would smile||Tu sourirais|
|You would go||Vous iriezi^|
|I would buy it..||Je l'achèterais^ ...|
^ Marks an irregular verb.
A verb form or mood.
The French subjunctive is a special verb form, called a mood, that is used in dependent clauses to indicate some sort of subjectivity, uncertainty, or unreality in the mind of the speaker. In French, feelings like doubt and desire require the subjunctive, as do expressions of necessity, possibility, and judgment. It can be helpful to consider them in themed groups:
|We must have a good excuse||Il faut que nous ayons une bonne excuse.|
Idioms, Slang, and Expressions
The following are some French idioms I have come across. I have included a literal translation to English, which mostly demonstrates how difficult it is to derive the same meaning from literal translation (although, some idioms are shared across languagesº).
|Expression||Idomatic Meaning (English)||Literal translation (approximate)|
|Où veux-tu en venir||What are you getting at?||Where do you want to come/be/reach?|
|faire des histoires||To make a fuss||Make some stories|
|Fais d'une pierre deux coups||To kill two birds with one stone||Make of one stone two blows|
|Je suis crevé||I am worn out||I am punctured (as in, a punctured tire)|
|Ça ne fait rien||It doense't matter / it's not important||It makes nothing|
|Brûles les étapes||Jumping the gun / cutting corners||Burn the stages|
|Dans des beaux draps||To be in a bad situation|
|J'en ai marre||I am fed up|
|Boire un pot||To get a glass / drink|
|Boîtes||A company (literally, |
I learned many of these expressions through the Assimil New French With Ease book.
Ben - A sound, not a noun. Generally means "well..." or "you know...".
Bof - "Meh, oof" etc.
Elle tient à le faire - "She insists on doing it". Tenir means
to hold, but when combined with
à, becomes a sort of "to insist" or "to hold onto".
Ne vous en faites pas / Ne t'en fais pas - a casual way of saying "don't worry."
On Quelque Sortes - "In a manner of speaking" ; "In a certain way."
Quel temps de chien - "What terrible weather!"
Tant Pis - "Hard Luck" (Bad luck; too bad)
Sur des charbons ardents - on the edge of your seat, in a state of suspense, lit: on burning coals.
Renvoyer l'ascenseur. - to return a favour - lit: to send the lift back up.
Words in French that look like their English equivalent, but are not.
|Actuellement||Now / At the moment|
|Assister à||To attend (not |
|Caution||Bail / Deposit / Guarantee|
|Célibataire||Single / Unmarried|
|Défaut||Fault, defect, flaw|
|Fameux||Great / Fire|
|Issue||Outcome, way, exit, solution|
|Occasion||Opportunity (can also be "occasion")|
|Prendre Place||To take a seat (not, "to take place")|
|Publicité||Advertising (can also be "publicity")|
|Rude||Rough, Crude, Hard, Tough|
|Serviette||Towel, Napkin, Briefcase|
|Supplier||To beg / plead|
|Un librarie||A book-shop owner|
|Une cave||A cellar|
|Une déception||A disappointment|
|Une librairie||A bookshop|
The conditional is often referred to as a "Mood", like the
subjunctive, but has been grouped under
tenses to simplify the organization of information.