Elsa’s Tips on How to Learn French

Learning or relearning a language as an adult can be difficult, but it can be done. Find tools that work for you, practice practice practice, and NEVER give up.

When looking for the right tools to learn French, don't forget the most important: commitment.

When looking for the right tools to learn French, don’t forget the most important: commitment.

Bonjour ! Comment ça va? (Hello! How are you?) I have been away from blogging about Paris for too long. I have many reasons for this — excuses, really — but one reason is that I have been focusing on learning French. Some day, I hope to move to France, whether it is to retire or to work, or both. Although more French people than ever are learning English, it is important to me to learn their language, for it is the only way to truly immerse myself in the French culture. And what better way for me to show how much I love France than to learn French?

I am the first to acknowledge that different people learn differently. That said, here are my tips on how to learn French.

1. Focus on learning French like you learned English, learning sounds (phonics), words, and putting together short sentences. Yes, this is how a child learns their first language: Since this method works for them, it will work for you. Look for children’s books on teaching French (see below). No need to be embarrassed: no one will know.

2. Watch “Learn French With Alexa” Videos. Click here: Overview of Learn French With Alexa Lessons 1-55.  Many people offer free French lessons on YouTube. Even though I took a year of French many years ago, I wanted to start from the very beginning, as I’ve stated above. Most lessons have you learning phrases without learning sounds or grammar. I found what I was looking for in Alexa, who teaches French from the ground up. After her first lesson on greetings, she teaches sounds, words, small sentences…everything I was looking for in a French teacher. She is also very funny: an added bonus. I highly recommend using ear buds to listen to language videos. You can miss the nuances of pronunciation without them.I watch her videos a minimum of 3 times: once as introduction, then to take notes, and a third time to go over the notes. I often also write words and phrases on flash cards to let the words sink in and become part of my way of thinking. I have watched at least one verb video 50 times to make sure I grasp it; after all, reciting what I’ve learned while watching a video is one thing — to be able to call upon it in the moment of conversation is something else. Repetition is key! I can still hear Miss Dawson, my first English teacher, saying,”Attention ! Écoutez, répétez après moi!” (Attention! Listen, repeat after me!) And we repeated and repeated and repeated…

I found these flash cards on Amazon. They include words in 17 categories, such as Travel, Time, Clothes, Food and Drink, and The Body.

I found these flash cards on Amazon. They include words in 17 categories, such as Travel, Time, Clothes, Food and Drink, and The Body.

3. Use French Vocabulary Flash Cards. This is just another way for me to build my French vocabulary. I have copied the flash card words onto my own flash cards to carry with me during my commutes (so as not to ruin the originals). The only problem with the flash cards is that they don’t give you the pronunciation. Which brings me to #4…

4. Use the French to English, English to French tool on Google. I love it! Again, use your ear buds to hear the nuances of pronunciation. Click here: Translate French to English Google link.

I found this book on Amazon. Once you start building your vocabulary, I recommend getting children's books in French to help learn French grammar.

I found this book on Amazon. Once you start building your vocabulary, I recommend getting children’s books in French to help learn French grammar.

5. Look for books aimed at children learning French, such as French for Middle/High School by Carson Dellosa Education. The book basically reiterates Alexa’s videos. But that’s just the point. There’s no such thing as redundancy in language learning: You have to go over lessons over and over and over again until you think in French.

6. Watch movies with more child characters than adults in French and in English with French subtitles, such as the Harry Potter series. Children, even in middle school and high school, are still developing their vocabulary and sentence structure, so they express their thoughts with less complexity than adults. This lower language complexity, when translated into another language, is perfectly suited for an adult to learn the new language. Also, since children tend to be less sophisticated speakers, they don’t generally talk so fast that you can’t hear individual words.

7. Listen to French music. Many people have told me to watch French news and movies to learn French. While I frequently see French movies at the French Embassy in DC (with English subtitles, thank heavens), the characters speak much too fast for me to hear individual words. French music is better for me at this stage of my learning French: it’s much easier to hear individual words, and I’m becoming familiar with French artists while I’m at it. I listen to the RJM French Music app: I  love Avance by Garou, De L’amour le mieux by Natasha St. Pierre, and Les Matins D’hiver by Gerard Lenorman, just to name a few.

8. Join a French group. Chances are, there are groups of native English speakers in your area who want to practice their French. A friend introduced me to one that meets in DC once a week: they meet in a church and go out to dinner together. I don’t feel I am quite ready for it, but I will attend their meetings when I am ready.

Surround yourself with French things and you will start to think in French.

Surround yourself with French things and you will start to think in French.

9. Surround yourself with French things. To learn a language, you have to learn to think in that language. I can think of no better way than to surround yourself with French things, such as a comforter with French words and pictures, French tea towels, a French clock, a Page-A-Day calendar of French locales, even a print from a French master painter, such as Monet or Renoir. These things help to transport you to France — at least in your mind, anyway — so you can think in French.  I am the first to admit that learning a language as an adult can be tough for a variety of reasons, especially because of the time it takes. All I can say is: Don’t give up. View any progress as real progress. Use any down time you can to practice or recite what you know. While I cook, I try to name all the kitchen items I use. While vacuuming, I recite all the parts of the room I can. I’ll review a small stack of flash cards while I’m waiting for my dinner to cook. If ever I start to feel hindered in my lessons, I think about how much I want to speak French when I travel to Paris the next time. It keeps me going. Find your own motivation to learn French and keep it in front of you. It will help you when you feel like quitting. It certainly has helped me.

Au revoir !





Learning French image by CanStockPhoto. French Vocabulary Flash Cards from Amazon, CCBY 2.0. French Workbook from Amazon, CCBY 2.0. Vintage French poster from Pinterest, CCBY 2.0.




Paris Trip Day 30

Wednesday. I went walking near D.C. Lofty and discovered some beautiful Christmas decorations. D.C. is not Paris, but it has its charms. I’m still not happy to be back in Washington, but I’m accepting it. I already miss Paris and the French people, the staff of Plug-Inn Hostel in particular. They are a great group of people. I feel so at home in Paris.

I bought some food, mostly breakfast items, and labeled them and put what I needed to in the fridge. It was so funny: a traveler in Paris saw me labeling my food with my magic marker before putting it in the fridge and looked at me wide-eyed, asking where can she get one of those; I told her I had brought it from home. There’s something to be said for being an experienced traveler: I am ready for anything. The magic marker, transparent tape, and small scissors that I keep tucked away in my backpack come in handy in a lot of situations.

Christmas in Washington certainly has its charms for me, but it isn't Paris.

Christmas in Washington certainly has its charms for me, but it isn’t Paris.

D.C. Lofty is a great place for travelers to stay: People generally leave you alone, yet there always seem to be people you can talk to. It has a hippie-commune vibe but with modern technological gadgets (computers and plasma TVs). Like many hostels, all of the rooms seem to have their own personality: what I really love are the comfy comforters on the beds. Comforters are a dime a dozen and never before have I thought about a comforter’s softness much; usually, I’m considering a comforter because of its color. These comforters aren’t “a feast for the eyes” or anything, but they are so SOFT. How can anyone have a bad night’s sleep with such a soft comforter to wrap yourself in?

Like Plug-Inn Hostel, DC Lofty had a long banner (longer than shown) announcing its presence; a welcome sight to any tired traveler.

Like Plug-Inn Hostel, DC Lofty had a banner outside announcing its presence; a welcome sight to any tired traveler.

I plan to stay here for at least three days to catch my breath.




Salut !






Featured image by Can Stock Photo. “Christmas Tree in Union Station,” by David Shane, Flickr, CCBY 2.0. Image of DC Lofty entrance by Yelp.

Paris Trip Day 29

I said my good-byes and was on my way to the airport before Paris was awake.

I said my good-byes and was on my way to the airport before The City of Light was awake.

Tuesday. Travel day to go back to Washington, D.C. I got up at 3:00 A.M. to make sure I was ready before the shuttle came to pick me up at 4:45 A.M. I said my good-byes and grabbed a cup of cappuccino from the machine before I left. The van driver was nice enough to hold my cup for me while I climbed inside.

We had to pick up a few people before going to Charles de Gaulle Airport. I struck up a conversation with a couple from the States seated in front of me; later, I spoke with a young woman who lives in the E.U. and I felt a twinge of jealousy: she spoke of how easy it is for her to travel because she lives in the E.U., and I wished I could be her.

We arrived at the airport and I alighted. I started to make my way to the gate, but stopped first to tell an American something she was asking of her friend, loudly. I don’t even remember what it was, I was so tired as I walked away — I might have been awake, but I was running on adrenaline. Still, I found some coffee (people in Europe say they “have a coffee,” which I’ll miss) and sat down to write a note to French President Francois Hollande on my French stationery that I had bought in a shop near the Eiffel Tower. I told him how much I love his country and how much I’d like to teach English there. The stamp didn’t want to stick to the envelope: good thing I’m always prepared with transparent tape, though it wouldn’t surprise me if it made an awful impression on him or his staff. I located the mailbox downstairs and headed to my gate.

I'm leavin' on a jet plane...don't know when I'll be back again.

I’m leavin’ on a jet plane…don’t know when I’ll be back again.

I sat patiently waiting for the flight attendants of Turkish Airlines to tell us it was time to board. The flight took off without a hitch. We were served a meal shortly after take off. I struck up a conversation with a French woman who seemed to turn up her nose at me as a(n) (fill in the blank) American. (I didn’t know what she thought of me, but I gathered it wasn’t good.) That’s okay, she seemed to me a bit stiff. Not sure how else to describe it.

Our stop in Istanbul was uneventful. We got back on board to go to Dulles, and I curled up for the long flight. The plane was about half empty so everyone had a lot more room to spread out and sleep, or whatever. I spoke with a couple with a young child about taking more seats, and they said they had their eye on a row right after take-off. The food, as before, was great. I still love French food the best, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy another country’s food.

When we landed in Dulles I found myself hungry again. I tried to find something to eat but my taste buds were on full revolt: they didn’t want to come back to American food. It’s like they were saying, “We want more French food. Now.” Can’t help you there, taste buds. You’ll have to settle for what I can find to eat in the States. In the end, I bought a muffin from Starbuck’s that wasn’t very satisfying – but it was something.

I took the new $5.00 shuttle from Dulles Airport to the Silver Line. Not a bad way to travel, but I’ll bet it’s hurting cab and shuttle businesses. From Metro Center I took a cab to D.C. Lofty Hostel in Washington, D.C., and settled in my room. I’m not sure how long I will be staying, since I have to find a place to live — and accept the fact I’m in Washington for the foreseeable future.


Salut !


All images by Can Stock Photo. “I’m leavin’ on a jet plane…don’t know when I’ll be back again,” from the song, “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane,” by John Denver, recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary.

Paris Trip Day 28

Moulin Rouge, where Henri Toulouse-Latrec found inspiration for his art.

Moulin Rouge, where Henri Toulouse-Lautrec found inspiration for his art.

Monday. My last day in Paris. I can’t believe a month has gone by already. I’m trying to savor every moment today. I’m pretty organized – I’ve reorganized my stuff enough times, I should be – so I went to buy that cute mug I saw in a shop nearby (with its own spoon!) and bought a few other small souvenirs. A guy who has a kiosk selling souvenirs at Blanche Metro had gone to his home country and come back, so I got to say good-bye to him. He asked me when I would be returning: I told him I didn’t know, but that my heart will always be here. He smiled in recognition.

I went to Champs-Elysees one last time, and took in the ambiance as much as I could. I don’t want to leave. I belong here. I wandered around taking pictures until I knew I couldn’t put it off any more. I walked to the Champs-Elysees Metro and took it for the last time to Blanche Metro. After I got off, I took some pictures of Moulin Rouge and met some travelers: one of them asked me if I wanted my picture taken. Sure! Then I walked up the Montmartre hill to Le Basilic and had dinner there again – another perfect French meal — and took a few pictures, saying my good-byes. Then I went back to Plug-Inn Hostel. I am thankful for my time here. I’ve made a lot of connections with people, some of whom I’ve forgotten to write about in my journal: my long-term memory is so much better than my short-term, that sometimes I remember things better 6 months to a year later than I did right after an experience. I still have more to say about my trip. Well, that’s something. Maybe I can even blog about it.

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Salut !


Images of Paris metro train and metro doors by Can Stock Photo. All other images by Elsa L. Fridl.

Paris Trip Day 27

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The 284 steps inside the Arc de Triomphe are probably not for the faint of heart, but there are places to stand aside and rest.

The 284 steps inside the Arc de Triomphe are probably not for the faint of heart, but there are places to stand aside and rest.

Sunday. A lot of attractions are free today. Unfortunately, it’s cold and rainy…the type of cold that seeps into your bones. I took the metro to Champs-Elysees, mostly to go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. I took pictures all around it and while I was on the top level. I happened to get there just before a crowd came (which I saw on my way out). The lift was broken, so I had to walk up a lot of stairs in a very winding staircase – I thought I heard someone say there are 222 steps to get to the top – but hostel staff told me there are 284. While the width of the staircase was small, there were occasional landings where you can step aside and rest while allowing others to pass; as someone who studied design, I found that design detail impressive. Sometimes it has seemed to me that designers and architects forget much-needed details, like having spaces for people to catch their breath on staircases while not holding up people behind them. There were exhibits in the Arc de Triomphe on military uniforms and aspects of the monument’s design. There was also a shop for souvenirs. I people-watched for a bit: I love seeing the joy on people’s faces as they investigate Parisian sights.

After I took plenty of pictures (and had a couple taken of me), I was so cold I had to leave. I didn’t want to. I went to the McDonald’s on the Champs-Elysees to use the restroom, and took some more pictures until my fingers were too frozen to handle the camera. It might have been the coldest day of the trip. Funny enough, I was feeling so frozen, I decided to take a couple of pictures of Queen Elsa.

I headed back to the hostel and grabbed a Grand Marnier crepe on my way. It was hard to eat with frozen fingers, but I managed. (!)


Queen Elsa on the Champs-Elysees. It was so cold, I'm sure she felt right at home.

Queen Elsa on the Champs-Elysees. It was so cold when I was there, I’m sure she felt right at home.

Salut !











Images of Ferris Wheel at the Place de la Concorde and McDonald’s by Can Stock Photo. Image of Arc de Triomphe staircase by Wally Gobetz, Flickr, CCBY 2.0. All other images by Elsa L. Fridl.

Information on the Arc de Triomphe taken from Wikipedia article, “Arc de Triomphe,” retrieved July 26, 2015.


Paris Trip Day 26

I ached all over from my quick trip to London, but the pain was worth it.

I ached all over from my quick trip to London, but the pain was worth it.

Saturday. Since I got back to Plug-Inn Hostel very early (around 7:00 A.M.) from London, I went to bed after breakfast. I had to stay in bed most of the day: my feet were killing me, my back and neck were sore from being scrunched up in the coach (bus), and I simply felt achy all over. I completed the picture by walking around the hostel (what little I did) with wild hair again. I talked with staff and others about my experiences in London and drank oodles of cappuccino from the machine. Hostel staff told me the weather in Paris changed for the worse just after I left.

I also finished reading Elvis: My Best Man, and thought about what I want to do for the rest of my time here, especially tomorrow, since many attractions are free (it’s the first Sunday of the month). It’s been cold and rainy, and it looks like more of the same tomorrow.

An image of how my heart feels to be in Paris.

An image of how my heart feels to be in Paris.

Still, a bad weather day in Paris beats a good weather day anywhere else, hands down. It might be raining outside, but in my heart there’s sunshine: that’s what Paris does for me.


Salut !




Images by Can Stock Photo.