Is speaking French fluently your dream—or your plan? Hopefully the latter! While having a dream inspires and gets you started, it’s only by crafting a plan that we can turn it into reality.
Many start to learn French but few stick with it long enough to reach proficiency. If you are serious about improving your French, creating a reliable system to structure your study time is essential.
In my many years of experience teaching French as well as in my personal experience as a language learner, I know how easy it is to get lost in the abundance of resources available, thinking we are “studying” while in fact we are just consuming random content. Studying haphazardly is not only a waste of time, it also prevents us from making steady progress.
As a French language coach, I always start by helping my clients to organize their learning process to make it efficient and sustainable. If you apply these 7 core principles, you can make your self-study time more effective and enjoyable.
1. Have a clear goal & plan
What is your current study goal? A goal should be specific, meaningful and challenging enough.
How important is this goal to you? What would be the consequences if you didn’t make it? If you feel it will make no difference in your life, no wonder you procrastinate.
Get specific and write down the areas you intent to focus on. For example, do you want to be able to express your opinion using complex sentences, feel confident using past tenses, improve your pronunciation, feel comfortable engaging in small talks, or order in a restaurant without stress?
Be ambitious and realistic with the level you want to reach according to your time frame.
Taking the time to define what you currently want to improve on will force you to reflect on your current level and prioritize the challenges that matter the most now. You will gain agency in the process and be able to precisely measure your progress.
Once your goal is set, start to plan how you are going to study.
Should you self-study, use language exchange, attend a group class or take private French classes? Maybe you will know right aways what’s best for you or need to give yourself the flexibility to explore different options before choosing. You might end up mixing several of them to create the French program that suits you.
Which resources will you use? Books, apps, websites, podcasts? Is there anything you need to buy before starting?
One part of my coaching is to provide my clients with the best resources to match their interests and level. French doesn’t have to be boring!
2. Time block
Decide not only which days but also what times of day to study French and mark it on your calendar.
If you’re taking French classes, you need to be clear about how many additional hours a week you can devote to self-study.
Be realistic. You can always increase your French practice later but starting too strong might lead you to give up.
It is far more effective (and brain-friendly) to study for shorter amounts of time several times a week than to have a weekly single two-hour session. Try not to exceed 40 minutes per session but to stay fully focused.
If you are not familiar with time blocking, check out this 2-min video:
One tool I love for time blocking is this hourly planners creator.
You can in a few clicks create and customize your weekly planner according to your desired schedule (day range, hour range, hour division). A great way to make the most out of your time each week!
3. Make a specific study plan
Choose the daily topics you will focus on during the week (grammar, pronunciation, reading...) and material (book chapter, online exercises, podcast episode, article...) beforehand so you do not waste any time or mental energy trying to figure it out what to study.
The goal is to reach clarity and to study intentionally to maximize efficiency.
For example, provided that you commit to studying 4 times a week, you can have 4 different topics based on what you’re currently focusing on.
Let’s say you are self-studying and your goal is to be more comfortable talking about the past.
Your main topic for the week is : « le passé composé ». You have already studied the rules. You choose to practice with 3 different activities on Monday, Friday, and Sunday.
At the same time, you decide to work on another topic as you need to improve your pronunciation of the French R.
And of course, you will naturally come across new vocab, so why not make some flashcards?
The possibilities are endless: be creative and make it exciting!
With each client, I craft a tailor-made study plan that is highly personalized and flexible to keep it relevant when they improve or when their focus changes.
4. Use a (monthly) habit tracker
A habit tracker is a wonderful tool for forming a new habit and boosting your effectiveness. Print it out, stick it on a wall, and fill it in every day after practicing French.
My personal favorite is the circular type:
Forcing you to be honest with yourself keeps you accountable. And you can feel proud of yourself every time you cross off a day (which even triggers the brain to release dopamine!).
5. Set up your environment to create a habit
Unless studying/using French is a habit you will not improve in the long run. The key is to make it a habit so that it becomes your new normal.
By automatizing the process, you will progressively make studying French a natural part of your daily routine. If you stick to it, soon enough your consistency will create a virtuous cycle of improvement. Here’s how to implement a new lasting behavior:
6. Just do it!
Even when you do not feel like it. Remember why French is important to you and get started. It is those days where discipline has to replace motivation.
Look at your habit tracker. I bet it would bother you to leave today blank!
7. Don’t forget to enjoy the process
If your chosen ways of learning French do not work for you anymore or if they bore you, stay flexible and feel free to change it up. We learn by doing, and finding the right process requires trial and error.
The enjoyment factor is key to keeping up practice in the long run. That said, it cannot be fun all the time, and sometimes you need to keep pushing yourself to get out of your comfort zone and master that new skill. When it’s time to reap the results, you will not regret it.
If you stay consistent in your study habits, not only will your progress be inevitable but you will also learn to find satisfaction in each small step and enjoy the journey more than ever.