When I first started learning French, it was just one word at a time. That may sound like a good thing, but it meant I had no idea about gender, plurals, different endings or anything like that. So what happened when I had to learn that stuff? Tough times almost relearning everything. Phew.
I invited Angel of French Lover to share 5 essential tips to improve how you learn French vocabulary so you can avoid all of that and skip straight to French success. Woohoo!
Before I pass over to Angel, I want to let you know about your free cheatsheets we’ve created for you based on the tips Angel is about to share with you. This will get you started in learning and remembering French vocabulary more effectively. Just click the image below to get your cheatsheets. Take it away, Angel…
Learning vocabulary is as plain as writing a list of words with their translation and binge learning it, right ? Wait a minute: You can be so much more effective.
Let’s get started with those 6 tips to sky-rocket your French study:
1 – Learn each noun together with its gender.
As I’m sure you know, gender is everywhere in French. Articles, adjectives and some verbs receive a gender marker, depending on the noun they refer to. So you *will* need to learn the gender of the noun, sooner or later, in order to use it with correct grammar. Avoid having to do the job twice by learning the noun with the corresponding gendered article from the start.
Pro tip: often, you can also guess the gender of a word thanks to its ending. Get The Gender Hacker Flashcard Deck here for Tinycards and here for Quizlet to instantly know the gender of 13000+ nouns by learning only 39 flashcards.
Each flashcard features one ending and an example word. Learn them and you’ll instantly know the gender of words with the same ending. There are a few exceptions but they are really not that common, so don’t worry about them. Once you have understood the patterns – you won’t need to check the dictionary for every new word.
How to do it:
Download this flashcard deck to your phone (you will need to have the Tinycards or Quizlet app installed. Both are free.) and study it a little bit every day until your remember all the endings. This will take you only a couple of minutes per day, which you can easily squeeze in any downtime you have such as taking the bus or waiting at the cash desk.
2 – When learning a noun or an adjective, check if it has a feminine form and/or an irregular plural.
There are a few rules for forming the feminine and plural forms of adjectives, the plural form of nouns and the feminine form of some nouns such as professions. Almost all nouns and adjectives follow some of those rules. When learning a new word, pause for a second and make sure you know which rules apply. If you’re not sure, check in the dictionary.
Here are a couple of examples:
Le serveur – la serveuse
the waiter – the waitress (masculine nouns ending in -eur have corresponding feminine nouns ending in -euse most of the time)
Le journal – les journaux
The newspaper – the newspapers (almost all nouns ending in -al have a plural form ending in -aux)
Here are some examples for how the endings of words change for adjectives:
How to do it:
Like for nouns, there are a few rules which will help you a lot here.
Add an -e to form the feminine.
Of course, there are a few things to remember here:
> If the masculine ends with -e already, the feminine stays the same.
> If the masculine ends with vowel+consonant, you’ll need to double the consonant (see above italien/italienne)
> Very few adjectives do not follow these rules so if you follow them, you’ll get it right 99% of the time.
Add an -s to form the plural.
Things to remember here? Oui!
> If the singular already ends with -s (or -x or -z), the plural stays the same.
> Adjectives ending in -al have a plural ending in -aux
> Few adjectives do not follow these rules so if you follow them, you’ll get it right 99% of the time.
3- Learn verbs with their conjugation type.
You will have to conjugate them anyway, so make sure you know how while you learn them.
Whenever the French don’t know for sure how to conjugate a verb, they refer to the Bescherelle, an all time favourite school book, now also available as a website.
However there are a few rules which can help you remember the basics.
Verbs ending in -er (such as chanter, manger, travailler) follow the same pattern so you only have to learn one of those (but not “aller” which is the only verb ending in -er and not following this pattern).
Type = prendre
How to do it:
Binge learn it. Know that verbs ending in “er” are regular and verbs on the type of “finir” are very numerous so if you have a verb ending in -ir and you don’t know the type, finir is your best shot. For the rest, learn one type by heart and learn the list of verbs which follow the same type.
Whenever you learn a verb, make sure you know the conjugation of a similar verb, as to not be taken unprepared when you attempt to conjugate it. Whenever I teach a new verb to a student, I always mention the type or give the conjugation in present if the type is new.
4- Learn verbs and adjectives with their preposition.
Prepositions are the one thing which remains unclear to even my most advanced students. Do we say “content pour mes résultats” ou “content de mes résultats”? Give yourself a headstart and learn it from the get-go:
Content de quelque chose
Parler de quelque chose à quelqu’un
How to do it:
Frankly there is no magic trick here, you will have to learn them. If you are not into tedious vocabulary list learning, I would suggest immersing yourself in lots of real life material such as movies, podcasts, books etc. It really helps those stick better.
If you do learn vocabulary lists sometimes, it is possible to group verbs or adjective who share the same prepositions and learn them together. Our content upgrade is a good start.
5 – Learn collocations.
A collocation is a combination of a verb and a noun often used together.
Have you ever wondered why you say “make a mistake” but “commit a crime”? While natives never think of these things, they can give headaches to a language learner. You will automatically sound more like a native if you learn and use collocations!
Collocations can be found in the dictionary too. Here’s a handful of examples:
Faire une erreur
Commettre une faute
Commettre un crime
There is no magic trick to learn these. The best way to remember them is to get used to the way native speak by listening to natives a lot, watching movies and reading books in French.
You can also start with learning the list in the content upgrade.
If you are curious to find out all the possible collocations with any French word, you can look it up in Wordreference and scroll down to the list “Formes composées”. You’ll be amazed at how many new expressions you find there.
Pssst! A last tip for the busy polyglot:
Don’t know where to start? No time to look all these details up? Don’t worry, I’ve done it for you. Let me introduce to you the French Lover Daily collections. A word everyday with pronunciation, example sentences, articles, prepositions, and all you need to sky-rocket your French vocabulary.
Merci, Angel! Angel is a language learning expert. He speaks six languages fluently, teaches French, English and Esperanto and runs the blog French Lover. You can join his free email course about forming French habits here.
This article is part of a set of three articles he’s written about learning French vocabulary efficiently. The other two articles are Expert-proven Vocabulary Learning Techniques (not just for French!) and How to Boost Your French Effortlessly with the French Lover Daily Collections.
Do you have any pro tips to learn French vocabulary like a boss? What helps you remember vocabulary? Share in the comments below!