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

(and how to make sure you don't)

Dear French learner,

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

Imagine this scene.

After traveling for hours, you finally find yourself in the streets of Montmartre.

As you enter a narrow alleyway, you suddenly catch a whiff of the magical smell of freshly-baked bread and croissants.

Looking for the source, you spot a quaint boulangerie (bakery) with a sign that reads "Aux Délices de Laura".

Feeling hungry, you push open the door and join the line of customers.

The American man before you orders in French, cracks a joke with the seller and leaves with a bag full of macarons and pains au chocolat.

Now it's your turn.

You take a deep breath and say "Bonjour, je voudrais un croissant s'il vous plaît".

The confused seller asks you to repeat...

You try to speak but your confidence is gone and no words come out.

Behind you, the line of customers grows. For a second, it feels like the whole city has gathered here to witness your embarrassment.

Panicked, you revert to English and leave as quickly as you can.

It’s not your fault!

You spent months (or even years) learning vocabulary and verb conjugations. You did your best to understand the difference between masculine and feminine words.

You spent hundreds of dollars on classes and apps that promised you fluency in 3 months.

Despite all this effort, here you are: struggling to understand locals and be understood.

I find this deeply unfair.

Why can some people quickly pick up a foreign language and be conversational in a matter of months while others struggle for years?

I spent years asking myself this question. On a beautiful summer day 10 years ago, I finally found the answer.

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

Bonjour ! Je suis 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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You are probably wondering how it happened. How did a shy monolingual Frenchman go from terrified of speaking English to being fluent?

The forum thread that changed everything

One afternoon, as I was reading yet another forum thread discussing the best way to learn languages, I stumbled upon an idea I hadn't heard before: The Pareto Principle.

Invented by a little-known Italian economist, The Pareto Principle states that 20% of the effort produces 80% of the results.

  • 20% of the clothes are worn 80% of the time.
  • In a group, 20% of the people speak 80% of the time.
  • 20% of employees are responsible for 80% of the results.

Applied to language learning, this means that:

  • 20% of the vocabulary makes up 80% of everyday conversations.
  • 20% of the grammar rules apply to 80% of sentences

Reading about the Pareto Principle, things just clicked and all the years of frustrations suddenly made sense. I mean, I don't know about you but I don’t need to tell anyone that I am a duck, not in any language, ever!

Armed with this exciting knowledge, I naively thought my language learning ordeal over but there was one big problem: all the courses I found insisted on teaching vocabulary like:

  • This is my first cow.
  • I am the bear.
  • They are washing the holy potato.

So instead of using a traditional course, I decided to find a list of high-frequency vocabulary, turn it into sentences and learn it by heart.

This was a long, tedious and incredibly boring process but it quickly paid off.

One year later, as I was sitting in a Berlin beer garden with 2 friends, it hit me: I was speaking English! Even better, I was having fun with friends in English. Friends I wouldn't have been able to have even a basic conversation with one year earlier.

You could do the same and learn French with a frequency list but, as I said, learning vocabulary from frequency list is REALLY boring.

Which is exactly why I created French Together.

Learn the 20% of French you need to understand 80% of conversations

Unlike courses that teach you words like "bulldozer" or "peony" and overwhelm you with endless grammar rules, French Together cuts through the noise and teaches you the 20% of French you need to understand 80% of conversations.

With French Together, you learn the exact phrases you need to buy a ticket at the train station, chit chat with sellers at the market or talk about your favorite movie with your friends.

Instead of listening to unrealistic recordings and robot voices, you train your ears by listening to real native speakers.

Instead of doing endless grammar drills, you build your confidence with exercises that help you practice speaking as if you were in the streets of Paris.

Sign up and see how much you can learn in just 7 days. You can cancel at any time in one click.

Train your ears to understand locals no matter how fast they speak

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 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 comes with audio recorded at both slow and normal speed.

Listening to the slow audio helps you train your ears to recognize French sounds while listening to the normal audio prepares you for real life French.

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.

Irene Belyakov-Goodman testimonial
Irene Belyakov-Goodman
United States

Learn real-life French

Example of real everyday conversation from the French Together course

French Together focuses on the most common French words because these are the 20% of French words you will find in 80% of conversations.

You learn the exact phrases you need to ask for the Chef's recommendation in a restaurant, open a bank account or nail a job interview.

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

Instead of learning random grammar rules, you learn grammar naturally in the context of each conversation.

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

Using the French Together program has been one of the best investments I have made with my time and money to really learn how to UNDERSTAND and SPEAK French. I love the ease of using the program and the different topics covered. It is so very user friendly and I can navigate it with no problem. Thank you again! I have been waiting for a program like this for a long time. So much better than sitting in an in-person French class going over grammar with no practical daily use of the language.

Nancy King
United States

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
Donna Åhrberg

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 and her family

"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
Emily Bernstein
United States
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Gain confidence and improve your speaking skills with "anti-freeze" exercises

Conversation practice exercises in French Together

As a language learner myself, I know how scary speaking a foreign language can be.

What if the person doesn't understand a word you said? What if you freeze mid conversation?

French Together prepares you for real-life conversation with "anti-freeze" 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.

Thanks to these clever exercises, you get to improve your listening and speaking skills without worrying about being judged.

"Before using the French Together course, I would never have tried speaking even though I knew what to say. This course has given me more confidence in my pronunciation and usage.

I wish I had bought this sooner. I really only had about 7 weeks with your program and already felt more confident speaking. I am continuing to practice and work and feel that on our return to Paris in October I will be so much more fluent."

Rebecca Spears
Rebecca Spears
United States
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“Your class is awesome! I am starting totally from scratch having never taken French classes before. My husband speaks French and he’s amazed how much I’ve learned in just a couple weeks! Every night I read the new conversation to him so he can listen to my pronunciation. I’m a teacher about to be on summer break so hoping to devote lots of time to it!”

Boston - United States

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.
  • Why French don’t always use the correct word order and why 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.

“Without doubt the most useful course out there. Had to take a FIDE test here in Switzerland to renew my resident permit and passed B1 oral A1 written with 92 and 95percent pass rates. No way would have achieved that without this course.”

Chris Horler

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
  • The 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 cancel) 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 device?
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.
Try it free for 7 days

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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, congratulations! 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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