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Should you be better at French by now?

by Alex

When we’re looking at a situation from the outside (e.g. when we’re helping a friend about a problem they’re facing) we tend to be able to add valuable advice.

We’re a “fresh pair of eyes” or have a “different perspective”.

When we face a very similar issue ourselves we often aren’t able to see things as clearly. Things seem more complicated.

That’s because we’re more emotionally invested. And that can cloud of judgement.

In this post I want to explore where our expectations for our French level come from and whether or not they are justified. To do this I’m going to examine 3 common “shoulds” that we French learners use:

  • “I should be B1 level by now!”
  • “I shouldn’t still be making that mistake!”
  • “My conversations should be more fluid!”

“I should be B1 level by now!”

Maybe. Maybe not.

What scale are you using to decide that you have gone past the acceptable deadline for your current pitiful level?

Are you following something like How to Learn a Foreign Language by Dr Pimsleur who says that under very specific conditions, B1 can be achieved in 16 weeks (converting from his FSI scale)?

Are you attending a class here and there and speaking English for 90% of your week?

Are you having conversations with random people without much study?

What I’m getting at is before you beat yourself up about not being at B1, decide whether you’ve done a decent amount of work that ordinarily would warrant that harsh assessment. Then, if that is indeed the case, channel that frustration into a new method.

If you’re regularly attending class but your speaking still lags way behind, organise regular speaking opportunities. You have the Internet, you can do it anytime anywhere with some effort to schedule calls and find someone reliable.

If you’re speaking a lot but not spending time learning basic grammar, then that’s not the right balance either for a B1. No, it’s not good but it’s normal to get into a routine that helps at first but whose positive effects wane after a while.

Don’t spend too much time pissed off at yourself. Channel it into rational action. Let it fuel you.

But “should” you be at B1 yet? Maybe. Maybe not.

“I shouldn’t still be making that mistake!”

“Ugh, I said “à la France” instead of “en France“. A teacher would say it’s not the end of the world to make such a mistake if in general you speak well. However, I know what it’s like when 1 mistake that is inconsequential to a casual observer feels like a failure.

Then you go down the rabbit hole of dismissing all your progress and achievements up to this point just because you messed up a preposition. I’ve got news for you: you mess up prepositions in English from time to time. Those are just brain farts.

With French, whether you “shouldn’t” still be making a particular mistake comes down to whether you’ve actually taken the time to put focussed effort into eradicating that mistake from your lexicon.

That involves writing it down a lot in imaginary sentences, putting into into flashcards, and most importantly, using the sentences out loud that you’re studying. Once you nail it a few times you can move onto something else.

But before you say “I shouldn’t still be making that mistake”, ask yourself “why not?”.

“My conversations should be more fluid!”

This one is simple. And not so simple.

How often do you speak French? Is it regularly, at least twice a week every week?

There’s absolutely zero reason why you should be a more fluid, fluent speaker of French if you are not dedicating hours upon hours of speaking it. No amount of reading and listening can improve your oral French as much as actually speaking the language.

Once you’ve done that, how much repetition are you getting? Are you changing topics every conversation? This can be ok, but if they use vastly different forms of grammar, you’re not going to improve your fluidity in any one area anytime fast.

Stay narrow and stay consistent. You will see the results.

Takeaways

How you see your French level is deeply personal. If you’re an emotional being like me, the smallest thing can set you off and make you doubt yourself and your ability to improve. Once you learn to be more rational and take intentional action to improve the parts of French that are most lacking for you, you will start to see more progress, leading to less self-criticism.

Le français est un marathon, pas un sprint, mon ami.

Bon courage !

Watch the video for more!

Merci d’avoir lu et de t’être abonné.e à la chaîne YouTube. (Thanks for reading and for subscribing to the YouTube channel.)

Now go and have more French conversations!

Alex

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