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Published on Thursday 2nd of April 2015 by Valerie

Learning French vocabulary can be fun!

Learning French means learning new vocabulary as it is an essential part of any language acquisition and will increase your confidence when you engage in French conversation. However, it doesn’t have to be hard labour. If you’ve conjured up a mental picture of you setting time aside to relentlessly commit to memory a dry, long list of new French words, it’s time to change that picture to something much more fun. Here is how you can do it:

Name your landmarks.
No matter what job or activity you’re involved in, the chances are your days will involve some degree of routine. Do you drive the same route everyday? Perhaps you take public transport instead or like to walk? Do you see some familiar faces on a regular basis? And what about all the objects that surround you every day and you never really pay attention to? Well, it’s time to name all these things but IN FRENCH! The post office that you pass everyday on your way to work becomes ‘la poste’, your boss turns into ‘le patron’ and the pencil sharpener on your desk upgrades to ‘le taille-crayon’. The trick here is to select a restricted number of words but to name them in French consistently every time you cast your eyes on them. Make sure you build your list progressively and never revert to English for any of the items you know.

Crosswords.
Crosswords are a fantastic fun way to build up your vocabulary bank. I remember doing the easy crosswords in the newspaper when I first came to live in the UK and I have no doubt it increased my vocabulary exponentially. I’m pretty sure you could get your hand on some commercially produced ones in France or through Amazon.fr but what’s stopping you from making up your own? All you need is some grids. Use the words you know and, depending on your skills, write the clues in English or French. The key here is to let it rest for some time before you solve it. You need to let enough time elapse in order to forget the words you’ve put in the grid. But if you have a willing family member or friend, why not ask them to prepare some crosswords for you?

Boggle.
I’ve always had an affinity with words. I remember as a kid having hours of fun playing Boggle with my family. For those of you who are not familiar with it, this is a commercially produced game which is available internationnally. It consists of a box with a transparent lid that contains die (plural of dice I believe) with letters instead of numbers. Shake the box and you have 3 minutes to make as many words as you can with adjacent letters. So why not find out as many French words as you can instead of English ones?

Scrabble.
Scrabble is a more widely known commercially produced game, so I won’t spend time explaining it to you. Just like the previous game, you can play it with French words instead of English ones.

Stop the bus or Baccalaureat.
Kids are always involved in games that transcend time, games that are played by generations before and after their own. Some of them may seem strange to the adult we eventually become, but others are purely and simply a work of genius. They also provide further applications in the adult world, especially in learning situations. This is the case for this one which English speakers call ‘stop the bus’ and French ones ‘Baccalaureat’. The rules are simple: on a piece of paper, select 4 or 5 categories such as ‘Countries’, ‘fruit’, ‘animal’, etc. Choose a random letter of the alphabet and find a French word for each category beginning with that letter. All of this within a time limit. You can play this one by yourself or with others.

Words beginning with…
This is a variation on the previous one. We live in a time where our visual senses are constantly stimulated, even when we’re on the go. Giant billboards, newspaper’s headlines, etc. catch our eyes wherever we are. We can moan about it, ignore it or… find an educational value in it. Take the first letter of the alphabet that hit your eye and see how many French words you can find starting with that letter.

Adverts revisited.
There are many other ways in which you can make use of billboards and headlines that come your way. Latch onto any word or object that catches your eye and see if you know the French for it. If you don’t, find out once you get home. You are far more likely to remember a word your brain has been actively searching for rather than one that is handed out to you on a plate. You can also turn this into a game with an objective by trying to set a personal record of how many words you can say on each occasion. For those of you who are more advanced, why not try to associate synonyms with every word?

Story telling.
This activity is linked to the world of visualisation. It is also well known to boost your memory. This is how it works: Take the words you want to learn. I have selected five random ones to give as an example: manteau (coat), sac (bag), chaise (chair), jardin (garden), rue (street). Now, visualise yourself coming home and build a story using your target words. Here is my story: As I walk through the front door, I put my ‘manteau’ on the coat-hanger and drop my ‘sac’ on the floor, like I always do. Suddenly, I hear a loud crash coming from the living room. I run in and discover with horror that someone had been there seconds ago. My favourite ‘chaise’ lays broken on the floor and the window is opened. I rush to the window and see a man in the ‘jardin’. He looks up at me and make a horrible face before running into the long and semi-deserted ‘rue’ below. Every time you want to recall these words, simply recall the story and they should come back to you. Make sure you make your story quite dramatic/eventful and that you take time to visualise it as you’re telling it to yourself.

Every day routine.
Use French as often as you can in your every day routine. We all speak to ourselves internally with everything we do. So, use French with all those little things that are part of your daily life. Reach for ‘une tasse’ instead of a cup when you’re making yourself a cup of tea. Grab your ‘brosse a dent’ instead of your toothbrush. You need ‘une fourchette’ (fork) to eat your food and a glass of wine may be even more tempting when it becomes ‘un verre de vin’.

So, you see, learning vocabulary in French or any other foreign language does not have to be a tedious task. Nor does it have to be time consuming. Some of these techniques can be used without infringing on your personal time, by simply incorporating them in your daily activities. Furthermore, because you start learning new words in context, they become much easier to remember and they will come to you effortlessly when you have a genuine French conversation with someone. Let us know how you get on and feel free to share any tips of your own.

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