How I Learn French While Traveling

At the outset of my travels, I decided it was the perfect time to achieve a long-time desire of learning a new language. Sure I took the obligatory years of Spanish classes in high school and college, but like many people, I struggled to find a passion for learning within the rigid classroom structure.

In the United States in particular, multiple language fluency is not encouraged in the same way as in other countries. The lack of importance is obvious in the way language is taught in school. Often American students don’t begin learning another language until they are teens, which is past the years in which picking up another language is easiest. Consequently, I treated the classes like all the others I took in school, necessary but often void of excitement or creativity.

Since traveling became a major part of my life, the desire to be bi-lingual – or possibly one-day multi lingual – grew stronger by the day. In interacting with travelers from all around the globe it is obvious to me how beneficial knowing multiples languages is. Speaking a different language than our mother tongue allows us to further experience and appreciate other cultures. Additionally, it feels like a wonderful way to keep our brains sharp, and discover a different side of our own personalities.

So I set off on the long but exciting journey of learning French. I chose French because it is widely used and shares many similarities with English. I figured I might still harbor some bitterness towards Spanish left over from high school learning trauma, so I opted to try a difference language.

Even with the beginner’s excitement, the goal of fluency can feel like a real uphill battle. So for those who may wish to begin their own language learning, I wanted to share the tips I find most useful in keeping me motivated and learning.


  • Keep It Stress Free

The most important part of learning a new language as an adult is keeping it as stress-free as possible. We deal with enough pressure as it is in day-to-day life, so we want our language learning to be an experience we look forward to. That means finding what works best for us, and seeking out tools that encourage natural learning without the traditional classroom model of memorization and regurgitation – which frankly doesn’t work for a majority of people.

If we begin to feel pressured or stressed, we should shake things up, and not be afraid to try something new.

  • Audio Courses

There are several quality language programs that are downloadable in audio format. I find these particularly helpful because I can listen to them while in the car, while riding public transport, while exercising, or during any free moment during the day.

I began with Paul Nobel’s course in French, which emphasizes learning the language naturally and without pressure. This program had me speaking and understanding the language in no time. The Michael Thomas method is another renowned program. Both Amazon and Audible are good places to find easily downloadable tracks.

  • Duolingo

Duolingo is a very helpful phone application for those endeavoring to learn a new language. The app is set up to be game-like and teaches vocabulary and sentence structure in an enjoyable way. The game prompts you to set a daily personal goal, and will gently remind you to meet it each day.

The simplest and most effective way to learn a language is to practice a small amount each day, and Duolingo is the perfect way to get in the bit of daily practice you need.

  • YouTube

Ah, YouTube, what a strange and magical place it can be. Here you can find very helpful recourses in learning a new language, from songs and shows in your target language, to actual learning tutorials. Get creative and search for a variety of clips to help boost your comprehension.

I find listening to simple songs in French is particularly useful as I tend to pick up song lyrics of quickly, and hearing the vocabulary in context is helpful. I also use videos aimed at young children, since the speaking is slow and often accompanied with the written words.

One of the most difficult hurdles of a new language is deciphering native conversation, and YouTube is a vital resource in training out ear in comprehending the spoken language.

Another resource for videos in your language choice is Yabla, which allows you to watch movies in another language.

  • Find a Language Buddy

The World Wide Web is an amazing resource for aspiring multi-linguals, as it connects us with people who not only already speak our target language, but very well may have a need to learn our own native language.

I signed up with the website Language Exchange to meet French speakers who were interested in an English/French exchange. I did splurge to sign up for the gold membership – which costs $6 for the first month – because you can only directly message another member if you pay for the membership. I received a massive amount of requests, and narrowed it down to a couple people who wanted a regular exchange.

Now I exchange emails in French weekly, and help my partners with their English in return. We will also work up to chatting via video. Not only am I practicing my French in real world scenarios, but also am getting to know people from a difference culture.

  • Reddit

Reddit is another very useful took in connecting with native speakers in your target language. There are specific sub-threads for just about any topic you can imagine.

For example, in French the following sub-Reddits are intended for those speaking and learning the language:

            r/French, r/Frenchimmersion, r/Francophonie, r/Francais, r/Learnfrench, r/FrancaisCandaien, r/askFrance, r/Quebec, r/France

There are many helpful Reddit users who can answer any questions that crop up while learning a new language. Reddit is also a good way to see a glimpse of the culture as you can interact with real people.

  • Learn with Stories

If we are learning a new language, we should be reading in the target language. This can be difficult for beginners and often we feel we may never be able to read well in the language. The trick is to start with easily understood children stories. There are many short stories intended for children that can be utilized by beginners to boost our reading confidence.

  • FluentU

FluentU is a great website intended for those learning new languages. They do sell a product that is likely incredibly helpful, but I chose not to invest in it quite yet. I did however sign up for their weekly emails, which include links to a variety of ways to help your learning. I find the resources very practical and they introduce me to many tips I never thought of prior.

  • Immersion through WWOOF and HelpX

Of course we hear that immersion is the only true way to achieve fluency in a new language. While it is certainly possible to learn at home, especially with the endless recourses on the internet, immersion is likely still the quickest and best way to learn a new language. Of course, many people don’t have the ability or resources to up and move to another country. However, one way for those whose main obstacle to full immersion is monetary, there are several ways to take much of the cost out of a trip to another country.

My personal favorites are WWOOF and HelpX. Both websites connect you with hosts from around the world who are looking for people to help with their farms or businesses in exchange for providing lodging and often meals. This is an excellent way to travel cheaply to another country and achieve the immersion that is so beneficial to language learning. Be sure to look for a good fit and read reviews from prior guests. Also it is important to truly commit and ask your hosts to speak in your target language full time.

  • Vocabulary Association

I found a very helpful tip to utilize in my daily life is to practice direct association with vocabulary. For example, rather than the traditional memorization tactic of flashcards, I chose a set of 10-20 words that I encounter often.

For instance, I will learn the words for tree, grass, mountain, sky, sun, moon etc, before taking a bus or train ride. Each time I see one of these things, I say the French word for them out loud. This way I learn to associate the object directly with the French word rather than translating first to English in my head. I find this really cuts out the middle step and solidifies new words in my memory.

  • Podcasts and Radio Stations

Be sure to check for Podcasts in your target language. Podcasts can be great for learning and the best part is that they are free. Of course, more widely used languages are naturally going to be more popular, and thus have more options, so not all languages will have this option.

Similarly, visit TuneIn to locate radio stations in the language of your choice.

  • Change your Browser Language

A great way to add your new language into your daily life is to switch your internet browser into your target language. There are several ways to do this, and will depend on your computer and type of browser, but you can find instructions specific to your situation with a simply Google search.

Forcing ourselves to navigate the Internet in our target language is a great way to immerse ourselves in practical way.

  • Fry’s 300 Instant Site Words

Fry’s instant site words are a list of the words we recognize instantly in our native language. The list consists of highly used words that are essential to the sentence structure but are often glossed over in memorization efforts. Using Fry’s list, I made an effort to learn words like is, also, it, how, etc. so that are most important to recognize instantly in a new language to gain reading comprehension.

Find Fry’s List at

  • Confidence and Passion

Perhaps the biggest contributing factor to learning a new language successfully as an adult is building confidence and cultivating a genuine passion for learning. Too often we tend to get in our own way because we are nervous to make mistakes and embarrassed with out lack of skills. This is the primary reason that children generally have an easier time picking up a new language – because they lack the self-consciousness that we adults developed. They speak freely and aren’t afraid to make mistakes, so they learn quicker.

Furthermore, learning will generally be unsuccessful if we don’t have a real desire to learn. Through different techniques and adding fun aspects into your journey, you can develop an excitement towards learning and it becomes that much more rewarding.

Learning to communicate your thoughts in another language is a beautiful experience, and truly brings me joy unlike any other. Putting aside a bit of time each day is all it takes to make steady progress towards successful language learning. Remember to keep it as stress free as possible, make real connections with other people, and be okay with making mistakes because they are essential to growth.

Kate Townsend

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