Ten Steps To Understand French Grammar And Learn To Read French
Here we'll list ten steps you can take to read French and to understand what you're reading. It comes down to understanding the Language and then consuming it.
- Understand the basic concepts of grammar - What are nouns, verbs, pronouns, articles? If you don't know, check out our Blog item on generic grammar concepts here! If you do know already, go to step 2.
- Find French grammatic components in actual texts - Check out the text in the third part of this article, containing a chapter of French Beginner Stories, for examples of verbs, nouns, pronouns, articles and coordinating conjunctions to learn the main components that you'll encounter. This step is about getting a basic understanding of French grammatical components. In the third step you will be asked to read the second paragraph of this article and try to understand all the possible French components.
- Understand French words and roots and their forms - If you know only a few hundred French root words, especially verbs, you can deduce the meanings of probably thousands (yes!) of French words. Learning one verb stem while knowing verb grammar teaches you dozens of verb forms. Read our "Ten Observations On French Grammar" below. They're just to give an indication of the forms that you can meet. It's especially the verbs that can have different persons (first, second, third and singular or plural) and different tenses/moods; present (I do), past (I did), future (I will), conditional (I would), past conditional (I should have...), subjunctive (that I would like). Nouns in French are a lot simpler, the only tricky part there is the gender (la femme, le dieu). I mean to say here, understand how this works, and go start reading. Understand that for every new word you learn, the root will have multiple up to dozens of forms.
- Find the roots in French words in actual texts - For example find the forms of "avoir (to have)" or "être (to be)" in the text in the third paragraph. You'll get better with time and practice and both your knowledge of the root of a word and the context of the sentence will make you understand new words even without having to look them up. If you're fine with reading French and recognizing verb forms, go to step 6 immediately instead of playing around with single words.
- Read a French sentence and try to guess its meaning - You can read and understand the French text because a pop-up translation is given for each word. Still it can be a puzzle to understand the sentence. In difficult cases the meaning given with each separate word or the last word of a complex sentence contains a translation of the whole sentence. You might have to re-read a sentence a few times before you understand, but once you're immersed in the story this will be easier than if you'd have to learn a lot of different sentences, or if you get dozens of very short texts without any apparent connection. A word is part of a sentence, and sentences are part of a story, and stories are part of language. So that's also the best way to build up a language in your brain. If you're fast in understanding what a sentence means by using the pop-up translation of single words, continue to paragraph 6.
- Read a French page with pop-up translation - re-read it until you feel you can read it without having to look up too many words anymore. You can download the free French demo product of the Bermuda Word French Fairytales product if you're not ready to buy the full e-book yet. It's already got hundreds of new French words, for free :-)
- Get the Bermuda Word e-book French Beginner Stories and/or Fairytales and practice high frequency words - Before testing with the Easy Test, set the Easy level to 6 to 20 (number of times a word occurs in the book) to determine how common the words are that you will be tested on. If for example you set the Easy Level in configuration settings panel to 18 or up, you'll get tested on articles and words like "le" and "la" (the) or "et" (and) pronouns like "que (what)" which is a good way to get an understanding of the most used words in French.
- Read a French story from one of Bermuda Word's e-books - read a chapter of the French Fairytales (and not just the title & contents chapter), for starters, try to reread it until you understand it, and let yourself be tested by the built-in software on your vocabulary knowledge of the chapter.
- Practice medium frequency words - Set the Easy level to a lower number or use the Average level and tests to test words that occur between 5 and 18 times to learn other words that occur often in French. With only a small amount of words (relatively to the total French vocabulary) you can read 95% of texts. By the way, you can also skip this step and just reread the first chapter(s) of the e-book, as medium frequency words will often occur enough in the first chapters to make you remember them (you'll look them up just hovering over the word until you know the word and don't need to look it up anymore).
- Read the French e-books - Reread the chapters until you're confident you know the words. Click any words you don't know, which may still be dozens or even hundreds, and use the built-in spaced repetition software to test them until you know them. Simply put, the software will calculate how often you have to test the words until they're permanently memorized. When you have finished our four (or soon to be five) Bermuda Word French e-books you can probably read up to 95% of an average French bestseller.
- So start reading those French books, bestsellers are the easiest to start with. If you're encountering too many unknown words, try take an English best-seller and the French translation, and read the French checking any unknown words in the English original. The French in works translated from English is always easier than in original French bestsellers. Once you're up to original French language books, check our list here!
Ten Different Observations On French Grammar
- Nouns - Can be single or plural, like in English. There's hundreds of French words which you might already know: attention, boulevard, client, destination, effort, etc. Go to this site to see them all: french.about.com - Vrais Amis. Don't learn them, you'll meet them in the stories you read, just make sure you understand they might have a slightly different meaning in French. However that will mostly be visible from the context.
- Gender - French nouns, articles, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs most of the times vary with gender of the subject. La Reine, Le Prince. In verbs "La reine était enchantée", or "(Elle) désirait de le voir marié". The verb "enchantée" designates the queen, and ends with extra "e", while "marié" is meant for the prince, and does not have the extra "e". When reading you will absorb this knowledge the natural way instead of having to learn the gender of all nouns and the consequent inflection for all verbs, adverbs and adjectives.
- Verb first, second and third singular and plural persons - Instead of the simple "I come" and "We come" there is a difference in conjugations for verbs per first, second and third, and singular or plural person. Present tense ends in (for -er/-ir/-re words) -e/-is/-s, -es/-is/-s, -e/-it/-, -ons/-issons/-ons, -ez/-issez/-ez, -ont/-issont/-ent. I.e. for "danser (to dance)"; "Je danse (I dance)", "tu danses (you dance)", "il danse (he dances)" is an example of a regular (according to default grammatical rules) -er verb. An example of an -ir word is "Choisir (to choose)". An example of an -re word is "Battre (to hit)". An example of an irregular verb is "aller (to go)". Je vais (I come)", "tu vas (you come)", "il va (he comes)". See an example of all verb inflections here.
- Verb past tense - If you see a verb with stem (infinitive danser, stem dans-) ending in -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient, it's the past habitual tense (Ridiculous? I always danced like that!). If you see a verb with stem (infinitive danser, stem dans-) ending in -ai, -as, -a, -âmes, -âtes, -èrent, it's the past perfect (I danced with her like that yesterday).
- Verb future tense - Verbs with infinitive (danser) plus ending -ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez, -ont indicate "I will", i.e. "je danserai", "I will dance".
- Verb conditional tense - And verbs with infinitive (danser) plus ending -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient indicate "I would", i.e. "je danserais, mais", "I would dance, but..."
- Verb subjunctive tense - When you see (part of) a sentence starting with que any verb following will probably be in subjunctive mode.
- Imperative verbs - For example "Go!" in French is not simply "tu vas", but "Va!". It takes the third person (he/she) verb inflection, when used for "you ...!". The inflections for "we" and "you (plural)" are same as the present tense.
- Pronounciation - Words starting with h- have this first letter omitted. I.e. "hôpital" becomes "opital", and "hôtel" becomes "otel" when pronounced.
- Adverbs and adjectives - Are used to describe nouns (adjective, beautiful SHE) or verbs (adverbs, she RUNS beautiful, or more difficult to see, she IS beautiful). For example "(qui était = who was) riche et aimable" are adverbs, and an example of an adjective is belles in "belles demoiselles".
Learn To Read Ten Paragraphs Of French Text
Components of the French language are given as part of a French text. You can move your cursor over any word to see its meaning. In our standalone e-books the translation is immediate (here there is a tiny lag because HTML title tags are used).
- Il y avait une fois un prince beau comme le jour, riche et aimable.
- La reine, sa mère, désirait beaucoup de le voir marié, et tous les jours il lui disait :
"Mon fils, pourquoi ne choisissez-vous pas une femme parmi toutes les belles demoiselles de la cour?"
- Mais le fils regardait toutes les demoiselles avec indifférence, et refusait toujours de choisir une femme.
- Enfin, un jour, fatigué des remontrances de sa mère, il dit : "Ma mère, vous désirez me voir marié."
- "Je n'aime pas les demoiselles de la cour. Elles ne sont pas assez jolies pour me plaire."
- "Je propose de faire un long voyage, tout autour du monde, et quand je trouverai une princesse, aussi belle que le jour, et aussi intelligente et aimable qu'un ange, je la prendrai pour femme, sans hésiter."
- La reine était enchantée de cette décision, dit adieu à son fils, lui souhaita un bon voyage, et le prince partit tout joyeux.
- Il commença son voyage gaiement, et alla tout droit devant lui. Enfin il arriva à la mer, où il trouva un beau vaisseau à l'ancre.
- Il s'embarqua sur ce vaisseau, et quelques minutes après des mains mystérieuses et invisibles levèrent l'ancre, et le vaisseau quitta rapidement le port.