Everyone would like to learn another language in the quickest time possible. There’s nothing wrong with having this as a dream – but is it possible to make it a reality? The idea of learning a language in a short, very intensive time-frame is not a new one.
It’s apparent that many have tried and some people swear by systems they claim to have found online that have some solution to this problem. All you need to do is pay them a large fee and all will be revealed. Many get suckered into this, thinking there’s a new way, a secret magical way to short-cut the pain of learning a language. It has parallels to get-rich-quick schemes!
However, It is clear that it is possible to learn French to a very good standard in just four months. However, this will require intensive study and many who attempt this won’t have the ability to complete it.
Let me explain what is and what is not possible in such a short timeframe.
What do you know already?
We have to assume your knowledge of French is at beginner level here and we’re trying to learn the language from scratch. We also have to assume you don’t already have a second language in the bag. For instance, if you already understand English and Spanish, then French will be slightly easier.
Both French and Spanish are Italic languages, whereas English belongs to the Germanic family. There are a lot of grammatical similarities and soundings between French and Spanish so someone who understands Spanish should find learning French easier, than someone who only knows English.
What do you want to achieve in 4 months?
It’s important to agree on what you expect to achieve after just four months. Do you expect to be fluent in the language with additionally a solid ability to write in French (so grammar is important) as well as comprehension of spoken French?
Four months is an incredibly short amount of time. To try and focus as much on the written language and grammar, as well as speaking and comprehension is going to be difficult to achieve in such a short time-frame. It’s going to take a mammoth effort and a lot of things will have to be put on hold for a while!
Let’s take a look at how much time you have and what’s possible in this time.
How much time do you have to learn French?
Let’s assume you have 120 days (i.e. 4 months) to learn French and you’re prepared to commit 8 hours a day, 100% on learning French. No weekend breaks and this is not including breaks for food, rest or anything. It’s an almost unobtainable, unreasonable schedule – but if you’re looking at doing this in the first place, you’ll accept that you won’t have time for anything else for the next 1/3 of a year.
This equates to 960 hours that you will have to learn French, is this enough time? What can you expect to achieve during this time if you stick to it?
According to two educational bodies, this is surprisingly more than enough time to learn French to B2, look at the tables below, the first is the defined language levels (i.e. B1/B2, etc.) and what they mean and the second table is the amount of hours typically required to get to this level.
|1) Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
2) Can introduce themselves and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where they live, people they know and things they have.
3) Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
|1) Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).
2) Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.
3) Can describe in simple terms aspects of their background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
|1) Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
2) Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
3) Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
4) Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
|1) Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialisation.
2) Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
3) Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
|1) Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses and recognise implicit meaning.
2) Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
3) Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
4) Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
|1) Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.
2) Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.
3) Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.
Therefore, with 960 hours, It should be possible, in theory, to get to C1 level! This is an exceptional level to be at and is more than sufficient for every-day French use and also for most business requirements.
So, according to the stats – at least now we know one thing. It’s possible. Although not easy, it can be done.
What would you need to learn first?
You need to get the basics down so you’ll be focusing on simple French grammar and basic expressions and greetings. Other essentials like numbers will need to be covered. However, the day will need to be split between different categories – you won’t be able to focus on just one area for several hours per day. It’ll drive you nuts.
Basic conjugations will need to be explored early – but equally as important as this is comprehension of spoken French. It’s all very well being able to speak the language but if you can’t understand what’s being said to you, you’ve only solved half the problem.
So, therefore at least a couple of hours a day will need to be spent listening to spoken French. Whether that’s the radio, YouTube, Netflix or podcasts – that would need to be defined but I can’t stress the importance of this enough. The French speak fast. The earlier you get a feel for this speed and try and pick up the occasional word, the better.
How many new words in French would you need to learn a day?
Learning new words is of course essential to learning French but there is a limit to how many words you’re going to be able to learn (and absorb) daily. This will depend on the individual but you will be doing very well to learn more than 30 a day. I would certainly struggle with half of that amount but then I don’t learn for 8 hours a day.
30 new words a day, equates to 3,600 new French words over the course of 4 months which would be sufficient for you to converse in the language after this time. I wouldn’t assume you’d be able to do this day-in, day-out though and a more conservative estimate of 15-20 could perhaps be more realistic.
How to structure your day to maximise learning
You day must be structured to the minute if you’re to maintain 8 hours a day for 120 days. The schedule will need to adapt to your level of knowledge and how it will look at the beginning will be different to how it will look after a month.
There are some mandatory components that need to be in-place for this to work though, which must include the following – these three components will be with you throughout the four months:
- Anki – you’ll need this flashcard tool to learn new words every day. You’ll probably spend at least an hour a day on this initially, possibly more.
- Practice conversations – you should find subjects that you want to talk about, and try and do this in French. Have a new conversation topic every day – you’ll need to repeat it several times for it to sink in. This is a great way to learn little topics that will help you not only learn new words but will enable you to talk about a few subjects in French.
- Comprehension – You’ll need to spend at least a couple of hours a day just listening to spoken French. Initially, this will probably need to be slowed down via YouTube as you just won’t be able to understand it.
Other things that you will need to look at our podcasts and of course sessions with tutors (look at Italki).
How good will you be after 4 months?
According to the table above, you could, if you can put in the amount of hours required reach the C1 level, which would mean you would have no problems conversing with someone speaking French for a prolonged period.
Realistically though, having been learning myself for some time, I don’t believe this is realistic. Having to study for 8 hours a day doing anything is a challenge.
If you include some downtime, so you don’t study at all during weekends, it reduces your study time by at least 256 hours, which will mean you will have around 700 hours to study. This should still be sufficient for a high B2 or a lower C1 and may be more sustainable over that length of time.
There’s enough evidence out there to conclude that given enough focus, it is certainly possible to learn French in four months. Maybe not for everyone, like me. I don’t think that many people would be able to learn the amount of words you need every single day to increase your vocabulary and I don’t think there’s many people out there that would be able to sustain the intensity over a four-month period.