How to study consistently and learn French for good
If you ask French students what's their biggest challenge when it comes to French learning, many of them will answer "I just can't stick to my study." Are you one of these students?
If you are, I must first congratulate you on your awareness. Indeed, it is impossible to make significant progress in your French study unless you stick to it, preferably for months (or even years) at a time. Being aware of this makes you so much more likely to speak French one day. So, kudos to you!
Unfortunately, "study consistently" is easier said than done. Even if you know you should, it's hard to stick to it when you are busy, stressed out, tired, sick, or when life gets in the way, which is always unexpected. This is true for learning French, but also for reaching any other goal that you might have for yourself. So how do you do it?
Motivation is key
In this article, I'm going to assume that you have a strong motivation to learn French. If your motivation isn't strong enough, none of the tips I will give you in this article will work well for you. If you suspect your motivation might be the problem, please check this video and this article about motivation.
Have you checked your motivation? Awesome. Let's dive in the topic of this article.
1) Make a realistic plan
If you are busy, all you need to make good progress is ten minutes a day. This is enough time to review your vocabulary. You should also plan a longer session once a week for learning new things (on the weekend for example). You can surely take ten minutes during your commute or lunch break. Find those ten minutes and commit to actually studying your vocabulary during that time everyday. Write it down, tell your best friend, or write about it on social media. Just make sure you remember to put in those ten minutes everyday. This is one of the many things that I teach in my ecourse Time for Language Learning
Found thirty minutes? Awesome. It’s great if you can stick to it. If it turns out that it’s too much after a while, don’t quit your study altogether. Remember that just ten minutes is enough.
I often hear statements such as "I'm going to learn French two hours a day from now on, until I'm fluent". If you have never studied French for two hours everyday before, it is safe to assume that you won't be able to stick to such a resolution. It would be like wanting to hit the gym four times a week, starting January 1st. If you have never done it consistently before, it's very unlikely that it will happen this time.
To keep the sport metaphor, I'm really into health and fitness, and I made a schedule for myself which does include going to the gym three times a week, as well as a short yoga session every evening. When life isn't getting in the way, I happily stick to my schedule, because I enjoy exercising a lot. When life does get in the way (meaning quite often), I remember that all I need to stay fit is to do 10 minutes yoga and go for a walk every morning. I do it everyday, no matter what. This ensures that I won't let my health drift away.
Do the same with your language study. Define the minimum amount of study that you can put in everyday to ensure that your study isn't drifting away. And when you're doing great and want to put in extra time, just do it.
2) Study every day and leverage the "compound effect"
Whenever I explain the previous point to a new student, they often connect it with the idea of “baby steps”. "Baby steps" is a productivity concept which is based on the following idea: if you make your goal ridiculously small at first, it's almost impossible not to achieve it. For example if you want to get into the habit of brushing your teeth, you could start by having the ridiculously small goal of brushing just one tooth. Then, as the habit progresses, you will be able to do more and more and eventually end up brushing your teeth everyday, no willpower required.
The 'baby steps' technique is great if you tend to procrastinate a lot and you have a hard time getting started. However, this isn't the typical behaviour of my students. Most of my students are successful adults with too much on their plate. They won't end up studying two hours a day, no matter how small their initial goal is, just because they don't have time for that. Starting small and doing more and more everyday doesn't work for people who are already doing so much.
If you already have too much on your plate, consider leveraging the compound effect instead.
The goals is to do just the amount of effort which is necessary to achieve good results without having to give up too much of your time and energy. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.
If you have a project or a task which you have kept pushing back because “it will take forever” (learning French can be one of those), stop pushing it back. Instead, commit to spending a little bit of time a day on this project until it’s completed. You will be amazed at how fast it actually gets done. Most tasks don’t require you to work on them for long periods of time at once. I used this technique for learning languages, getting rid of email backlog, decluttering and even cleaning my home. The last one is never over but I can tell you, 30 minutes cleaning everyday made my flat cleaner than it had ever been. Thirty minutes is too much? Go for ten or fifteen minutes instead.
In the case of learning vocabulary, your daily ten minutes have an added bonus: if you do it every day, your brain hasn’t had time to forget yet and you will learn much more than you would if you’d have a one hour session per week instead, for the same time investment. Use an app based on the spaced repetition system such as Anki or Quizlet for maximum effect.
By the way, I promise that you can find time everyday, if you know how to look. My ecourse Time for Language learning will teach you how to systematically audit your schedule and discover every bit of time that you can use to learn French in any day, even the busiest. If you're not keen on investing in a full system just yet, this free 30-minute video workshop will help you get started.
3) Keep your plan flexible
Your plan should be realistic and require little effort for you to stick to it. It should also be flexible. You had committed to twenty minutes French during your lunch break but you really want to have lunch with your colleagues? Don’t just drop your study session. Reschedule it to later in the same day.
My secret strategy is to always plan the things I really want to do, such as a study session, in the morning. This way, if something comes in, I have a significant chance of being able to find time later the same day to reschedule my study session.
Truth be told, I also tend to change my plans a lot. Whenever something doesn’t work, I change my plan. The key is to only change your plan if you have found a better one. If you don’t have a better idea, stick to your current plan, don’t drop it.
4) Track and evaluate.
Of course, in order to change a plan which doesn’t work, you need to first realize that your plan doesn’t work, and figure out what you’d like to try instead.
A good way to do that, is to take time regularly to reflect on your plan and decide what you want to do next. You will also learn how to do it systematically in Time for Language Learning
I like to do that in weekly and monthly intervals. At the beginning of each month, I determine my goals for the coming month. I do it for languages but also for every other area of my life and business. Then I break the goals in weekly chunks and pick some for the first week of the month. At the end of the week I go back and see what has worked and what has not worked. I also decide on new tasks for the coming week.
If you struggle with consistency, I suggest you use a simple habit tracker. It's basically just a chart with a line for each habit and a column for each day of the week or months. You can draw it in your calendar, use a paper sheet, or even an habit tracking app such as streaks.
I started using a habit tracker as part of my 2017 resolutions and it is an absolute game changer. I made a list of the things I’d like to accomplish everyday, and when I have done them, I tick the corresponding box. As childish as it sounds, I really enjoy ticking my boxes. It gives me a strong sense of pride to look back at my tracker and see all the days when I did my yoga routine or ate fruit, and it keeps me going. It also helps me remember a few things which I could easily forget otherwise. Give it a try!
5) Keep your motivation high
Now, sometimes the best way to stay consistent is to do something for your motivation. It is normal for your motivation to fluctuate. In order to keep it high, you need to enjoy your study and also remember why you are learning French.
The reason why I eat fruit daily is not so I can tick my box in my tracker. I eat them because they are healthy and tasty. The tracker is only here to help me remember about it.
Motivation and consistency support each other. If you can find motivating French learning resources, and get yourself to study them everyday, then you will learn French in record time.
If you find yourself with low French learning motivation, read this article.
I also suggest learning French with your five senses, as it helps keeping your motivation high and keeps you from getting bored.
Also make sure you use these two types of study in order to learn French fast.