Every single person learning French will encounter this problem. Not just once but throughout their language-learning journey.
It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything differently from anyone else. Sometimes, there will be words, for whatever reason, that you just can’t remember. Sometimes it seems that the more times you look at it, the less you are able to recite it.
I’ve been learning French for a couple of years and have had this problem more times than I can remember. However, I created this simple process that has been proven time and time again to work. It’s not difficult and won’t cost you a penny.
So, follow these simple steps and end the pain!
What you will need
Anki, it’s free and you can get it here. There is an app but it’s expensive, so if you want to use it from your phone, use a mobile browser and navigate to their web version. Personally, I have the client installed on my laptop and it works well.
It’s a flashcard tool, but a sophisticated one (that’s simple to use) that utilises a well-proven Spaced Recognition algorithm, to deliver the flashcards that you need to see at that time. Very simply put, cards that you get correct often you’ll see less of. Cards that you’re continually getting wrong, you’ll see more.
The process – an example
Let’s say that you have a word that you’re struggling to remember, in this case, it’s the French word for ‘fence’ which is ‘clôture’.
First, create a deck – this will include all the words that you’re struggling to remember – I’m going to call this deck ‘Difficult Words’:
Call the desk what you like but you can see in the below example (Under ‘Custom Study Session’) I have the new deck ‘Difficult Words’. Select this deck by clicking on it.
Then, we want to create our first card by clicking ‘Add’ – you then need to select the right type of Flashcard, we’re going to use ‘Basic (and reversed card)’. If we were to use the default ‘Basic’ type then we would only be asked to translate the English word into French and not the other way around. To properly learn this, we need to be able to translate it both ways.
So, ensure you select this:
It’s tempting when entering the details just to add the English and French words – don’t do this:
Instead, you need to form a sentence using the word, like this:
So, in the above, we have a sentence that actually has some context. But, we’re not finished here – you need to be able to pronounce the word correctly and it doesn’t hurt to put a reminder of what gender the word is (although the ‘une’ gives it away in this case of course!):
Ok, this is looking better now. Finally, add two more examples, such as these:
So, you’re left with 6 cards (remember, we created 3 and they are reversed also so we will have 6):
It really is as simple as that. Of course, when you’re making examples it helps if you know the other words in your sentence otherwise you’re going to be trying to remember more words than just the word you originally struggled with!
How to practice
Use Anki at least daily and be honest when answering the questions. For instance, in the example below:
If you don’t know the answer, of course hit the ‘Again’ button. However, if you get the pronunciation incorrect or the gender, then make sure you either hit ‘Again’ or ‘Hard’. Only hit the ‘Good’ button if you get it right and only hit the ‘Easy’ button when you’re 100% comfortable.
Anki is only as good as the user operating it and you have to make sure you don’t hit Good or Easy unless that’s really what you think.
Another thing you can do to help is to just add more information on the ‘answer’. Let me give you an example. Personally, I learn better with visualisation and association. One word I struggled with a lot was ‘path’ (don’t ask me why!). The french for this is ‘chemin’.
The word ‘chemin’ is actually pronounced (in my head) ‘sher-marn’. This sounds a little bit like ‘Sherman’ – as in the Sherman Tank. So, whenever I visualised a path, I would visualise a tank on the path struggling to deal with how narrow it was. This was a clear image in my head and as soon as did this, I was able to recall it. Of course, it’s not spelt the same so the Anki card helped with that.
The key is to make learning as simple as possible and remove as much of the stress as you can. By utilising this method, you have a controlled method of learning just the words you’re struggling with under one roof. It shouldn’t create much of an overhead as once you start getting the words correct you’ll see them less and less.
I’m not affiliated with anki in any way, I’ve just found that this method has helped me enormously. I hope that it will with you also!