Le Guide Valpo

Advice from Professors and Former Students

There is no single magic formula that will guarantee success in the French major or minor. Each student comes into the program with a different background and formation in French. You will have strengths that will help you excel in some areas and weaknesses that you will need to address in others. In addition to following the explicit and obvious rule of working hard, keep in mind the following bits of implicit advice that we hope will facilitate the hard work you put into the major and minor.

As students of French, you know that language learning requires some unique methods–it’s not like learning math or studying for a chem exam or being able to write a political science analysis. Some people say that one does not “learn” a language but rather that one “acquires” a language. You want to understand how French works (and be able to conjugate those verbs), but you also want French to just “flow” naturally as you speak and as you write!

What are the best ways to get you closer to having French “flow”? Here are some tips, many of which you likely already do:

  • One of the most important tips is to continue to “take risks” linguistically! Volunteer in class even if you are feeling shy; try to use new expressions and vocabulary when you speak and write; stick religiously to “only French” in class and when talking with your professor or other French students; when you write, go the extra mile and write more complex sentences, more varied sentence structures. You’ll be rewarded with faster language acquisition and better grades!
  • Particularly in “language-focused courses,” DO the exercises (written and oral) that ask you to practice given grammatical or other structures. These are not “busy work,” they are practice–and the more you do something, the more likely you are to “acquire” it. (Think about music and sports! The same principle applies.)
  • In all classes, DO stick to French at all times. The more you use it, the better. Going back and forth between French and English actually hurts your ability to acquire French.
  • DO take advantage of opportunities to use French outside of class: speak French at the French Club “goûters”–speak French at other Esprit français activities–speak French with native speakers on campus like our exchange students from France and our Fulbright LRC Language Partner and French House PA–speak French with your professors in and outside class.
  • DO create opportunities for yourself to continue learning on your own: listen to French recording artists (Stromae, anyone?), check out French books from the LRC book collection or the Christopher Center, listen to French podcasts (get ideas at https://goo.gl/dU9mxr), watch the tv news at France2.fr or tf1.fr.
  • DO listen actively–take note of new words/structures or new realizations (“ah–that noun is feminine!!”), and use them when you speak and write!
  • DO NOT worry about making occasional mistakes–we all do–just note corrections, and take stock of the progress you are making.
  • DO work on improving your French accent. You will be more easily understood by native speakers if your accent is as authentic as you can make it. Listen and imitate and don’t feel self-conscious about the French “r”!

  • Make French your home base before anything else.
  • Glad I studied abroad, even when I experienced discomfort, it is how to build confidence. Make friends with other French majors!
  • Don’t be too afraid to try!
  • Realize that everyone makes mistakes.
  • Don’t be afraid to attend events because you aren’t confident about your French!
  • Food and French go together. French is a tight-knit community and it is a social language!
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone learns differently and at a different rate. Strengths vary.  You WILL improve.
  • Make more use of your professors as a resource. They WANT you to come to them!
  • Do the readings and keep up. If you actually study, you do not have to pull all-nighters.
  • Don’t procrastinate!