Can you learn French on your own? 5 tips to succeed

Can you learn French on your own? Or is it better to take classes in a structure like a language school? One thing is certain: if you don’t do self-study and practice outside of a group class, you won’t learn the language. 

Having a teacher, coach, tutor, or someone who knows the language (and is patient) who can answer your questions is a must. This will speed up the process because you’ll avoid wasting time trying to find the right answer. But if you self-study and learn on your own, you’ll know what questions to ask and the learning will be faster and more efficient.

In this article, I will talk about some “saboteurs”. They’re limiting thoughts that prevent us from moving forward. Then we’ll talk about some strategies to work around them. The original text in French was published on my French blog.

can you learn French on your own

You can learn French on your own, with support to pratice

I think it’s entirely possible to combine group and independent learning, depending on your needs of the moment and your desires.

But today, I especially want to help you realize that, in both cases, YOU are the main actor in your learning. There are no definitive answers to the questions: “alone or in a group?”, “what do you have to do to learn French?” “Am I doing enough?”

You’ll see that to learn a language you have to work on yourself as much as on grammar!

To help you learn French independently, I created a checklist of the 10 essentials to design your roadmap towards the next level.

What if I don’t know how to learn French on my own? Any tips?

Many learners are afraid to leave the structured framework of the school. As a learner you’ve probably never been taught “how to learn”, even less how to learn efficiently, in a manner that fit your natural style, abilities and needs.

You’ve probably never tasted how it feels to be an empowered learner.

Learning French independently raises some concerns that I’ll address now.

a) fear of studying alone

  • Thinking you’re not pable of being self-sufficient
  • Not knowing what to study
  • Not knowing who to practice with

b) the budget issue

Studying independently does not mean studying alone. Indeed, it is recommended to work with a tutor, teacher or coach. If you’ve prepared before the sessions, you’ll be able to ask the questions that will help you make sense of things and get lots of practice. Make sure YOU lead the sessions according to your needs and you’ll how cost-efficient they become. 

You can also participate in language exchanges that are free.

It can be a bigger budget than a language school but, if you find the right person to help you, progress will be faster. You won’t need to sit through endless classes for months. All in all, it’s a good investment!

A last note on language schools: some of them do not pay their teachers for the time they spend preparing and the hourly rate is low (I’ve heard horror stories from teachers teaching at YMCA). So, if you’re in a position where you can afford it, definitely check how the school treats their teachers!

The limits of learning in a language school

When you start at level 0, I find it useful to take formal classes in a school to learn the basics. Besides, you will meet other people in the same situation as you. You’ll form a small strong community and you’ll feel supported

If you are studying for a test, the program will be set up specifically to study all the necessary grammar and vocabulary points. Be careful, I say “study” grammar, it does not mean that you will be able to use all the concepts after the end of the course

However, in a language school, the problems you often encounter are:

  • few opportunities to practice conversation
  • differences between learners: sometimes the teacher explains too quickly, sometimes too slowly
  • a fixed curriculum that doesn’t fit your needs

But it is also possible to start directly with a private teacher or coach, especially if you have already learned other languages.  When you have an intermediate level and even as early as level A2, it becomes important to know how to study independently.

Even if you continue the lessons at the language school, if you really want to progress, you have to work outside the school for the reasons mentioned above.

Negative thoughts that block you from learning French independently

Lack of self-confidence

The first obstacle on the road to self-directed learning is often self-confidence. Maybe you have some bad memories of school, some situations where you feel you “failed”, or a feeling that you’re not “good” at languages

Besides, we haven’t been used to making decisions on our own. We were taking directions and instructions from the teachers. They held the knowledge and decided on the lessons (what, when and how to learn). It was standardized: the same for everyone. School pedagogy often encourages a passive role.

It feeds the false belief that there’s a right way to learn.

Moreover, it develops the tendency for the teacher to talk and the students listen without developing their curiosity.

The feeling of being “not enough”

Perfectionism and meticulousness are often our enemies. I’m sure you sometimes get that mixed-feeling with your French. On the one hand, you think you’re not doing enough (not enough exercises, not enough practice, not enough progress, etc).

On the other hand, you just don’t have time to do more. So, you’re frustrated. You compare yourself with other people who are “more” than you: they do more things, they seem to progress faster, they have more confidence in themselves.

These thoughts increase our frustration and are counterproductive.

I don’t know how you react in this situation but, when I compare myself and I feel “less XYZ” than the others, I just want to lie on the couch and eat the whole jar of chocolate ice cream 🙂

5 tips to succeed to learn French on your own

When I feel these thoughts coming up, I have several strategies I’d like to share with you.

I’m not saying that’s the right way and that everyone should do this but your doctor will at least agree on some of these strategies !

Eat well, sleep, exercise, connect with other humans… Sounds familiar?

1. Thinking about what’s important to you

I usually start by moving away from social media. So I stop comparing myself to other people and I stop imitating fashionable trends.

Even though everyone says that you have to be present on social networks to develop your business…

And I realize that actually, no, that’s not true, not everybody says that.

But  when you listen to your negative thoughts, you don’t hear those other voices saying another way is possible.

 

2. Taking care of yourself, your physical and mental health

I exercise, I don’t stay locked up at home, I see friends, I cook. I make sure I sleep between 7 and 8 hours at night so I don’t get tired during the day.

 

If you’d like to hear more: check out this video about the connection between our mind and body I recorded for the first Language & Mental Health mini-summit. 

 

3. Take a step back

I focus on moments when I know I’ve done a good job.


I know this either because someone congratulated me or thanked me or because I myself have observed the positive consequences of my actions.

You could write in a notebook the 3 priority tasks that you have to do to progress towards your goals and, during the week, work on these tasks. Don’t let yourself be influenced by other people’s goals or new ideas.

“Follow your own path”, the one that leads to a feeling of joy and satisfaction. For example, if I’m feeling crippling stress or pressure, then I’m probably on the wrong track for me and I need to change something.

My “fuel” that sustains my motivation is the feeling of “joy”. What’s yours?

How do you want to feel? What can you do to reach this state of mind?

 

4. Show kindness to yourself

We have a limited amount of time available so we have to accept that sometimes we can’t do everything we want, that not everything will be perfect. But it doesn’t matter.

Be honest with yourself, and  evaluate yourself without judgment. Imagine that you are an outsider, a friend, and look at yourself kindly.

When you learn to recognize your limiting thoughts and overcome them, when you learn to trust yourself, you will see that you will learn more effectively!

 

5. Everyone must follow their own path

No one, not even your language teacher or tutor, should decide on your learning path.

We can advise and guide you but YOU know what will make you want to practice every day.


It’s hard because you have to learn to listen to yourself and trust yourself. It’s a skill that can be learned and practiced until you get better and better at it.

Additional best practices to learn French on your own

As you can see, becoming an independent learner of French begins with working on your state of mind, so here are some tips.

  • Use the expertise of your tutor, teacher or coach to help you.
  • Have a constant dialogue to identify your needs and the best ways to learn for you.
  • And if he or she doesn’t want to dialogue, change tutor or teacher or call on a certified coach who has been trained to foster dialogue and create the ideal conditions for your transformation.

Together with my fellow coaches from the Neurolanguage Coaching network, created by Rachel Paling, we followed such a coaching training course. It was specifically designed for people who work with foreign language learners.

We are trained to help you overcome your blocks and to help you learn autonomously and efficiently.

When you become an actor in the learning process, you know why you’re making such an effort and you want to keep going.

 

Do you want to start taking ownership of your learning?

You might also like this page: Podcast & resources to help you progress

About Cathy

Cathy Intro is a certified Neurolanguage® coach helping aspiring French speakers improve their language skills to live their life and socialize in French with confidence. She has a strong focus on active listening, cultural awareness and self-understanding. She believes clear grammar foundations are key to reaching fluency in French but that it shouldn't be taught with a linear textbook-approach method. Her role as a coach is to empower the learner, ignite curiosity and provide support to reach the objectives with no waste of time and efforts, in a positive and fun environment.

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