Creative Imitation for Fluency In French

Nobody has ever said that learning to speak French was easy. But is there one thing-maybe a kind of silver bullet--that one could call the key strategy for effectively improving your spoken French? This is a hard question because there are so many things that one should do. Listen to songs, visit the country, live with a family, take private classes, find a language buddy, watch TV and movies in the language, read comic books, novels and newspapers, etc. The list of things to do to improve your French is long.

But there is one key thing that will probably give you the most bang for the buck. I call it creative imitation. It's nothing new; it's really how children learn languages. They simply imitate the people around them.

For adults, it's a bit more work. But first of all, what are we trying to accomplish? Fluency in French means two things. Firstly, you want to be able speak spontaneously, smoothly and effortlessly. French should just roll off your tongue. Well, that's the idea. Getting there is the hard part. What you don't want to do is fumble, stutter and have people waiting while you search for that lost word. That's when most people give up and switch to English, to the relief of everybody.

Secondly, you do want to speak accurately. We all make mistakes, and people know that French is not your native tongue, but you don't want to make horrendous grammatical mistakes that will grate the ears of your listeners. French is a bit of an unforgiving language. Most people feel you either speak it well or not at all.

The fundamental idea of creative imitation is to simply observe and reproduce entire dialogs and phrases word for word until you feel comfortable. This obviously works particularly well in immersion where you are surrounded by the language. In your notebook-you do have a little notebook for this very reason, right?-you write down as best as you can something that you wish to imitate. You can try it right away if you have the courage. Or you may prefer to run it by your teacher and repeat it aloud a few times.

Another approach is to find or create some dialogs or phrases in books or in whatever materials you are using. Just make sure that the material is authentic and up-to-date. Flashcards are wonderful for this sort of thing. When you leave the house, always take your notebook or flashcards with you.

In any case, you want to rehearse your material ten to twenty times or whatever it takes to etch it into your memory.

This approach works wonders at various levels. Your understanding of spoken French will improve quickly because you are using authentic materials. At the same time, you will quickly develop a repertoire of useful things to say correctly in various contexts. This is great for self-esteem because of the positive feedback you will get from native speakers. And in no time your French will have improved considerably.

  (First publishd by articles@ezine )