Wouter du Toit

How To Learn French

Wouter du Toit
How To Learn French

I’ve moved from Cape Town, South Africa to France at the start of 2017. Speaking Afrikaans at home and being versed in English is how most are raised there, and the French language isn’t something you think of as being useful or cool to learn. No one speaks French there, and when we came to France for a holiday, it was part of the excitement to see words that you could recognise in English on the billboards and media, but I generally refrained from speaking to someone unless I knew they’d be comfortable to answer me in English.

Now I am on the other side of the conversation, and I’m learning French. I know the awkwardness of trying to pronounce certain words, and I know how annoying it is to have to ask someone to repeat what they just said. So I’ve made a list of what I did to get to grips with learning the language in time. I am also studying the language at the Marie in the first arrondissement, which is basically a municipality of the district in the city. For twice a week, I go to a school, where I and roughly 15 others from all over the world come together to learn how to speak, write and comprehend the language.

There is nothing that beats direct face-to-face coaching, so this list of activities and ways to learn are additional.

By day I am an English Business Coach, so I teach French speaking people how to present, negotiate, argue and persuade in English, and my advice to them is to spend at least 10 minutes per day to do something in English. It can be watching a series, reading, listening to a podcast or opening up Duolingo and cracking through the exercises. So, I can’t teach it without actually being able to do it myself, so I’ve made a schedule where I attempt doing something in French. And this is how I’ve passed my first exam, and how I’d be going to the next level of the language in the next two months.

Apps for language exchange

Often you get someone who speaks French and wants to learn English, so it’s the perfect scenario for peer-to-peer learning to take place. There are two apps that I found to be very active, and both of the apps allow you to correct their mistakes, receive your corrections, send voice notes and talk about relevant topics or have a general chat.

Apps for Exercises

If you’ve ever been interested in learning a language you’ve obviously heard about Duolingo. It’s famous for giving great exercises without any cost unless you decide to upgrade. They give a lot for a free version, and it’s the start of learning any language from the ground up. Apart from that are four other apps I can recommend. The one is Babbel, which is not free but gives a subscription and offers a lot. The other super-well designed app is Drops, which focusses on certain words and then uses several approaches to learn the words.

If you learn well with flashcards, iTranslate Lingo will work well for you. You can go through certain words per day, and the approach is similar to Drops, but it rather focusses on providing flashcards.

Rosetta Stone has always been seen as the best way to learn a language. I remember installing the software on our Pentium 386 and inserting each CD to start learning. Times have changed, and so have they. It’s rather pricey, and I haven’t paid for it, but they’re using a freemium model, so it gives you time to check it out to see if it works for you.


There are so many websites with great resources. You can do exercises or read simple text to improve. One of these sites are TVMonde5. Another is RFI.FR. You can take part in listening exercises and follow a story that mixes English and French in the plot. It’s a way to follow a story and not be completely lost if you don’t understand the language. I can commend the people who brought this learning method to light, because it’s interesting, entertaining and


It’s good to listen to some podcasts while commuting, and although the French speak fast, just like the English do, there are some podcasts that provide news in slow French. Even if you don’t understand what’s being said, just listening and hearing the language spoken in a slow way definitely helps you in a subconscious way.


I sign up for one newsletter French Word of The Day, and it’s done by a group called Transparent Language. They give me a word a day, and I can listen to the spoken word and how it can be used in a phrase.

Audio Books

I’ve listened/read a book by Paul Noble who wrote a book Lear French. It’s a good introduction to the language and how to use it, and you can surely learn something from it. It’s written from the perspective of a traveller, and not someone looking to become fluent in the language, so it’s for the beginner, but if you’re starting out, this might be a good place to do so. While searching for a link to the book on Audible I saw that it is available on Soundcloud.

Whatsapp Groups

The first teacher we had at the Marie, who took us through the basics of the language’s construction, created a Whatsapp group where she shared voice notes, images and where she made it possible to learn during a free couple of minutes during the day. If you have a couple of friends who want to learn the language, work together and contribute to a Whatsapp group.


I myself haven’t actually gone to any Meet-Ups but I do think it’s a great way to collaborate and learn together. Here is a group I think will do you good if you’d also like to meet some people.


I’m not fluent in the language yet, and it’s a process I think can take a lifetime and not a destination you one day reach telling yourself you’ve made it. Even in English there is always some vocabulary you can improve upon. As inspiration, here is a video by Lydia Machová who learns a new language every two years. She talks about polyglots and how to learn a language.