Why so many French learners freeze when they try to speak French

(and the 2 mistakes to avoid to make sure you don’t)

Dear French learner,

I am a Frenchman living in London and I notice something pretty frustrating every time I go to Paris to visit my family.

As you know, millions of people visit France every year.

Most of them speak English but a few make the effort to speak French because they know it’s the only way to fully enjoy French culture and connect with locals.

They ask for directions to the lovely apartment they rented in Montmartre, buy a few croissants at a local bakery, or book a table at a restaurant. Some may work up the courage to try to speak with locals.

Unfortunately, their attempts aren’t always successful, and I hate to see the look on their faces when they realize French people can’t understand a word they say or when the person they’re talking to asks them to repeat.

It’s not even their fault!

They spent years learning vocabulary and verb conjugations they quickly forgot, did their best to understand the difference between masculine and feminine words and worked hard to try to understand spoken French.

They may even have spent thousands of dollars on expensive French classes and fancy apps.

All of this only to end up switching to English because they’re ashamed of their French!

This breaks my heart.

Luckily, I also see people who speak French with confidence after only a few months.

They can enter a bakery, order a croissant, crack a joke with the baker and leave with a smile on their face.

I spent years wondering why some people quickly speak French with confidence while others never seem to be able to say more than a few simple words.

And I finally found the answer.

But before I reveal it to you, let me tell you a little bit more about myself.

Bonjour ! I’m Benjamin Houy

Houy writing in the Korean alphabet
That’s me learning 한글 (the Korean alphabet)

I grew up in Houilles, a small city near Paris. And my first English conversation was a complete disaster.

I had been studying English for more than 10 years like all French students.

And there I was, standing in front of a group of American students, struggling to keep up with the conversation, ashamed and frustrated by my inability to say anything other than “yes”.

My brain was frozen and my accent so bad the students could hardly tell whether I was speaking English or French.

After asking me to repeat a few times, they excused themselves, quickly walked away and went to talk to Laura, a classmate who could not only form complete sentences in English but also make jokes in English.

That’s when I decided that enough was enough. There had to be a better way!

This happened several years ago and I now speak French (my native language), English and German.

I’ve also taught French in South Korea as part of a French government program and helped 2,999,264 people learn French at French Together which is now one of the most popular French learning websites in the world and has been mentioned in several well-known publications.

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The irony is that people assume I’ve always been good at languages and that I’m one of those people who can pick up language after language without any effort.

The reality is that I just created a method anyone can use to quickly learn new languages.

And I really mean anyone.

Current students include British people and Americans who retired in the South of France, college students who want to get better grades, busy professionals who want to speak French before going to France with their family and people who have been struggling for years before they discovered the French Together method.

Avoiding these 2 mistakes is essential if you ever want to speak and understand French

You may think you just need to work harder, you may think you’re too old to learn French, you may think you’re bad at learning languages.

Truth is, the reason why so many French learners struggle to speak and understand French is that they simply make the following two mistakes.

Mistake #1 Wasting your time learning vocabulary

There is nothing more frustrating than spending months learning French only to realize that the words you know are useless in a real-life conversation.

Yet, that’s what happens to most French learners who learned French the traditional way. They know lots of words but can’t form sentences because the French they know isn’t the French they need to speak French.

screenshot from popular language learning app showing 'this is my first cow' written with French
The kind of sentences most French courses and apps teach you)

That’s a shame because, according to L’encyclopédie Incomplète, the same 600 French words represent 90% of words used in common French texts.

Knowing these words won’t make you fluent but it will make it considerably easier for you to understand the language.

That’s why it’s essential to focus on high-frequency vocabulary and say goodbye to old-fashioned methods that make you waste your time learning how to say ruler and peony.

Mistake #2 Giving too much importance to grammar rules

Most French learners start by learning conjugation tables by heart and obsessing over the most insignificant aspects of French grammar.

They spend days learning rules they don’t understand, conjugating verbs they don’t need and memorizing the thousand of exceptions of each grammar rule.

The truth is, you don’t need to know that much grammar to speak French with confidence.

You simply need to learn the 20% of grammar rules that will help you understand 80% of sentences.

You don’t need to know the list of all masculine and feminine words. You just need to know that the majority of words ending in -e or -ion are feminine while most other words are masculine.

You don’t need to learn how to conjugate 100 verbs in the present tense, you just need to learn a few conjugation patterns that apply to the vast majority of verbs.

If you do that, you won’t know all the details of French grammar. You will, however, be able to speak French without taking forever to construct a sentence.

The secret to quickly speaking and understanding French

The two mistakes you just discovered show that the key to quickly speaking French with confidence is to focus on what matters.

This may sound simple but most French courses try to teach you so much at once that you end up overwhelmed and frustrated by your inability to speak and understand French.

What you need to do is learn the most common French words first and focus on the grammar that you actually need to know.

You could do that on your own of course but knowing what truly matters when you don’t know the language isn’t exactly easy.

Sure, you could download a list of the most common French words but knowing words is not the same as speaking French.

You could search for the best “grammar hacks” but you’re not guaranteed to find anything. And again, how do you know you’re not wasting your time on useless grammar rules?

That’s why I created French Together.

Introducing French Together

French Together is the only course teaching you the 20% of French you need to know to understand 80% of everyday conversations and quickly speak French with confidence.

After using French Together, you will know exactly what to say to order a coffee like a local, book a table at a restaurant, have conversations with locals or buy a train ticket.

You will completely avoid the embarrassment of not understanding what people say and will be able to engage in meaningful exchanges with locals without feeling like a foreigner.

All of this with lessons you can easily fit into your day and will look forward to, even after a long day at work.

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Step 1

Listen to real-life conversations recorded at slow and normal speed

Whitney leaning against a railing on a downtown street

Your learning journey starts by listening to a fun and realistic conversation between Jérome, Elodie, Stéphane and the other professional voice actors who worked on this course.

They speak fast, don’t they? That’s how all French people speak (especially Parisians, they are the worst!) Don’t worry though, French Together also comes with audio recorded at slow speed so you can get used to the sounds of the language. Simply switch between the two speeds and train your ears to finally understand fast-talking locals.

Do this for a few weeks and you could dramatically improve your understanding of spoken French. Oh and the course also includes audio from a variety of speakers so you get used to different accents and intonations and don’t end up having to ask locals to repeat when you go to France.

One of the best parts of this course is the fact that you had the dialogues at ‘normal speed’ versus slowed down dialogues, so it meant that you could hear how the conversation would sound in ‘real time’ vs the ‘slowed down’ audio for your ears to ‘listen more. By day twenty of this course, I felt confident enough to speak (I had to travel to France), as well as understand simple everyday sentences/directions, which only enhanced my stay in France.

J. Williams Robson testimonial
J. Williams Robson
Nottingham – United Kingdom

After using the French Together course, I had a chance to speak to a French person – I traveled to England and Normandy and dared to start a conversation with our guide (who is from Paris and spoke perfect English. He wasn’t very talkative with me in French – but I was thrilled that he understood me and I – him. He was very surprised that I had studied French only for a few months.

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Irene Belyakov-Goodman
United States

Step 2

Improve your understanding of the language with full transcripts and natural translations

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Unlike other courses that teach you a ton of words you will never use, French Together focuses on the most common French words because these are the 20% of French words you will find in 80% of conversations.

These words have been carefully selected based on a list of the most common French words in everyday speech. Each sentence has then been reviewed by several native speakers to make sure the sentences you learn are the sentences you will hear the most in real life.

Each conversation comes with a full transcript and translation so you know exactly how to use each word and sentence you learn. This includes literal translations to help you quickly understand how the French language works and discover the true meaning of some of the most common French expressions.

French words often have multiple meanings. Understanding all the nuances is essential if you want to sound French. That’s why the course also includes clear vocabulary explanations when necessary.

Finally, cultural explanations help you learn more about French culture so you don’t simply speak French but also act French and avoid embarrassing mistakes. For example, you will discover how to tip like a local, learn a simple phrase you can use to get tap water for free in restaurants and discover the words you must use if you don’t want to come across as rude.

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Step 3

Understand how the language works with clear grammar explanations

Whitney leaning against a railing on a downtown street

Each lesson builds on what you have already learned, and slowly incorporates new elements, so you don’t have to struggle to memorize anything. You can focus on learning effortlessly.

You learn grammar naturally by focusing on common patterns and similarities between French and English. Instead of learning French from scratch, French Together uses your knowledge of English to help you learn French in the easiest and most logical way possible.

The clear grammar explanations help you easily understand complicated grammar concepts such as the difference between masculine and feminine words and the conjugation of irregular verbs. While most courses teach you as much grammar as possible, French Together only teaches you the grammar you actually need to know.

French Together follows a clear grammatical progression inspired by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR.) By the end of the course, you will have reached a level equivalent to the B1 level of the CEFR. This means you will be able to speak about most everyday topics with confidence and understand most of what people tell you.

Step 4

Gain confidence and improve your speaking skills with conversation practice exercises

Whitney leaning against a railing on a downtown street

Real life French is nothing like textbook French and French Together prepares you for it with conversation practice exercises.

Whether you are in front of your computer, in your car or working out, these exercises recreate the experience of speaking in real life and help you gain the confidence you need to speak French with locals.

I call these exercises “anti-freeze” exercises because they solve the two main problems French learners face in real life:

  • Even though you know the words, you can’t hear them when people talk because they speak so fast and single words melt into sentences.
  • You can’t seem to string sentences together and frequently freeze when it’s time to speak.

As a language learner myself, I know how scary speaking a foreign language can be. The conversation practice exercises help you gain confidence by simulating real-life conversations from the comfort and safety of your home. This allows you to improve your listening and speaking skills without having to worry about someone asking you to repeat or making fun of you.

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If you're a complete beginner, you will build a solid foundation and discover:

  • 8 greeting words you must know if you don’t want to sound rude.
  • The secret to easily guessing the gender of any French noun with 80% accuracy.
  • The simple conjugation pattern you can use to easily conjugate the French present tense.
  • The one thing you must say as soon as you enter a French shop.
  • Why you should never use “how are you” as a greeting in France and what to do instead.
  • Do you know the difference between “tu” and “vous”? I’ll show you which one to use
  • The simple pronunciation mistake that could get you to say the opposite of what you meant to say.
  • How to ask for directions and actually understand the answer.
  • The sneaky way to talk about the future without using the future tense.
  • Nous is the best way to say “we” in French. WRONG. In lesson 6 I’ll show you how locals say “we”.
  • The expressions you can use to add color to your French.
  • The exacts words you should use to book a hotel room or a table at a restaurant.
  • How to ask for the chef’s recommendation and get a meal you will love.
  • Why dropping words and letters can help you sound more authentic.
  • The 3 words you need to know to make comparisons in French.
  • French people speak fast. Here is how to politely ask them to slow down or repeat.
  • WARNING. The French don’t always use the correct word order and you shouldn’t either.
  • How to introduce yourself and other people with style.
  • Why speaking English is an advantage when it comes to learning French.
  • A few embarrassing vocabulary and grammar mistakes and how to avoid them.
  • When to use filler words to sound more natural.

If you already know a bit of French, you will build on what you already know and learn:

  • A simple rule to easily conjugate most French verbs in the future and conditional tense
  • The subtle but extremely important differences between the two main French past tenses
  • How using the present tense to talk about the future can help you sound more French
  • A conjugation mistake most French people make and how to avoid it
  • The easiest way to talk about events that just happened
  • The truth about “vegetarian” French food
  • How to conjugate verbs in the imperfect tense
  • Warning: you need to know these fundamental differences between spoken French and written French
  • The RE technique: a simple way to change the meaning of French verbs and sound like a local
  • How to ask for the waiter’s recommendation and get a meal you will never forget
  • The multiple translations of “you” (and how to use the right one)
  • Tricky false friends that confuse French learners
  • All the ways to answer the phone in French
  • How to say “should” in French and avoid common mistakes
  • The questions French waiters ask you when you enter a restaurant and how to answer them
  • The 4 letters you can use to easily turn most French adjectives into adverbs
  • How a few hilarious French expressions can help you sound more natural and impress locals
  • The mistake many French learners make when talking about countries
  • 4 ways to say “what” in French and why it matters
  • How to conjugate verbs in the passé composé
  • Learn how to say “have to” in French

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If you're at an intermediate level, you will learn the French needed to better understand native speakers and go from listening to speaking:

  • An introduction to the French passive voice (and why you need to use it sparingly.)
  • Do you know the difference between “ses” and “son”? I’ll show you which one to use.
  • The easiest way to say “I should probably…” or I better…”
  • How to conjugate verbs in the imperative.
  • The secret of BANGS.
  • A romantic faux-ami to avoid.
  • The essential irregular verb imperative to watch out for.
  • The “most important” French words and how to use them to unlock your Frenchness.
  • Why you shouldn’t use the French “be + ing” form (and the tense to use instead.)
  • How do you say “just + verb” in French? (hint: it’s really simple.)
  • The dozens of ways to use “salle” to create words.
  • The mysterious life of “là.”
  • How to say “has to” in French.
  • How to say “while doing something” in French.
  • The conditional conjugation of “pouvoir” (and why it’s more useful than it may seem.)
  • The “magical” French prefix you can use to easily create new verbs and express repetition.
  • The romantic “to miss” or why the French don’t say “I miss you”.
  • How to know where to place short adverbs.
  • The French don't tip, or do they?
  • What “ça fait” really means.
  • How not to let “en” and “y” drive you crazy.

Questions students asked before saying oui

How does the free trial work?
You have 7 days to tryFrench Together totally risk-free. You can cancel in one click at any time before the end of your free trial and won't be charged.
Atfer your trial ends, you will then be covered by the 30-day moneyback guarantee and can cancel at any time.
Can you tell me more about the 30-day sourire guarantee?
After your free trial ends, your subscription will start (unless you cancelled) and you will then have 30 days to try French Together totally risk-free.
If you don’t like it, haven’t had the time to use it or feel that it’s not the right course for you, email benjamin@frenchtogether.com within 30 days of your purchase and I will issue a full refund with a smile. No questions asked.
How easy is it to cancel?
I'm a language learner just like you, and if there is one thing I hate, it's apps that make it easy to sign up and hard to cancel.
That's why I made sure cancelling French Together is as easy as possible. You can cancel your subscription at any time either by:
  • Clicking on "cancel" in your account
  • Clicking on the cancellation link in your subscription confirmation email
  • Emailing me at benjamin@frenchtogether.com
And if you cancel within 30 days of your subscription starting, you will benefit from the 30-day sourire (smile) guarantee and receive a full refund.
I’m busy, will I still benefit from using the course?
French Together was designed based on a list of the most common French words and each word was chosen based on how likely you are to need it in real-life. This makes French Together the perfect method for busy French learners because it helps you cut through the noise and make progress faster.
What if I have a bad memory?
It’s perfectly possible that you truly have a bad memory, particularly if you are not as young as you used to be. But this doesn’t mean you will never speak French. In fact, a lot of older people have found that they made progress faster with French Together because the focus on the most common phrases means that there is less to learn.
I’m not very tech-savvy, is the course complicated to use?
French Together has been designed to be as easy to use as possible. If you know how to browse the web and found this page, you will have no trouble using it.
Will this work on my smartphone/tablet/computer?
Yes, French Together works on Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android, Chromebooks and the vast majority of devices.
Do I need to install anything?
No, just go to the French Together course website and start learning.

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Lyn and her family

"I had spent one year struggling with French grammar and couldn’t speak French at all"

"Before using French Together, I had spent one year struggling with French grammar and couldn’t speak French at all. After using the course for only 30 days, I feel that I better understand French grammar and feel more confident speaking. I particularly love the slow audio, because it helps my ears to listen more so that I can speak more and can honestly say that this course has saved me lot’s of time and prevented many headaches. I would totally recommend this course."

Lyn - Indonesia

Donna Åhrberg

"I even feel confident enough to let people hear me speak"

"I have been getting up a bit earlier each morning just to study french on your course, and then I have it with me all day, repeating to myself and combining different sentences. I only used the duolingo app before and it has helped me build up vocabulary and grammar, but for sentences it hasn’t really done anything for me. As you’re saying, when will I ever say ”Il y a une vache dans le jardin !” ? I even feel confident enough to let people hear me speak, to show them what I’ve learnt and it feels amazing!"

Donna Åhrberg - Sweden

Emily Bernstein

"I wish I had known these lessons before moving to France"

"It is an excellent French course – very different than how we learn a language in the classroom. I wish I had known these lessons before moving to France. It took me FOREVER to figure out that you could switch ‘on’ and ‘nous’ when speaking. I had no idea what people were saying! Great work!"

Emily Bernstein - United States

Is this the right course for me?

French Together is for you if you can say OUI to at least 4 of these statements:
  • You’re just getting started learning French and would like to speak and understand French before your trip to France.
  • You studied French at school and want to refresh your knowledge.
  • Despite knowing thousands of words, you feel paralyzed when it’s your turn to speak French.
  • You can read in French but struggle with conversation.
  • You don’t mind putting in the work as long as you know that the time you invest is a positive step towards your goal of becoming a confident French speaker.
  • In fact, you’re already working hard to learn French and just want to make sure you’re spending your learning time as efficiently as possible.
  • You can’t wait to become a confident French speaker and can already picture yourself asking for the chef’s recommendation in a Michelin-starred restaurant and talking about your favorite movie with your French friend Paul.
  • You love how French sounds and can’t wait to be able to watch French movies and read French books in the original version.
French Together isn’t for you if:
  • You’re looking for a magical pill that’ll allow you to learn French in a day. The French Together course is awesome and it can help you quickly speak and understand French, but it won’t help you unless you’re motivated and ready to work a little bit every day.
  • You regularly speak French with your friends and have become a master in the art of asking French shopkeepers how their family is doing while joking about the weather. C’est GENIAL, this is GREAT congratulation! You could still learn a ton of useful French expressions and improve your French with French Together, but you’d be better off with a more advanced course.
  • You only want to learn French to pass your exams. This is a noble goal, and I congratulate you on it, but unless your exam is focused on expressing yourself and communicating in French, you’ve better ways to prepare for it (learning conjugation tables by heart for example).

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© 2023 Benjamin Houy