Tips to Improve Your French Vocabulary

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Words, words, words! Languages are made up of words, and French is no exception. Here are all kinds of French vocabulary lessons, practice ideas, and tips to help you get better at learning and remembering French words.

Resources to Learn French Vocabulary

The following resources will help you learn, practice, and master French vocabulary.

  • French Vocabulary: Utilize vocabulary lists and lessons on all the basics and topic areas including introductions, food, clothing, family, and more.
  • Mot du Jour: Learn 5 new French words a week with this daily feature.
  • French in English: Many French words and expressions are used in English, but do not always have the same meaning.
  • Cognates: Hundreds of English words mean the same thing in French, but some are false cognates.
  • French Expressions: Idiomatic expressions can really spice up your French
  • Homophones: Many words sound alike but have two or more meanings.
  • French Synonyms: Learn some new ways to say the same old things and master words like bon, non, oui, petit, and très

Know Your Genders

One of the most important things to remember about French nouns is that each one has a gender. While there are a few patterns that let you know what the gender of a particular word is, for most words, it's just a matter of memorization. Therefore, the best way to know whether a word is masculine or feminine is to make all your vocabulary lists with an article, so that you learn the gender with the word itself. Always write une chaise or la chaise (chair), rather than just chaise. When you learn the gender as part of the word, you'll always know what gender it is later on when you need to use it.

This is particularly important with what I call dual-gender nouns. Dozens of French pairs have different meanings depending on whether they are masculine or feminine, so yes, gender really does make a difference.

Chance Encounters

When reading French, it's very likely that you'll come across a lot of new vocabulary. While looking up every single word you don't know in the dictionary may disrupt your comprehension of the story, you might not understand anyway without some of those key terms. So you have a few options:

  1. Underline the words and look them up later
  2. Write down the words and look them up later
  3. Look up the words as you go

Underlining is the best technique because when you look the words up later, you have the context right there in the case of words with multiple meanings. If that's not an option, try to write down the sentence in your vocabulary list, rather than just the word itself. Once you've looked everything up, read the article again, with or without referring back to your list, to see how much more you understand now. Another option is to look up all the words after each paragraph or each page, rather than waiting until you've read the whole thing.
Listening can also offer up a lot of new vocabulary. Again, it's a good idea to write down the phrase or sentence so that you have the context to understand the meaning provided.

Get a Decent Dictionary

If you're still using one of those little pocket dictionaries, you need to seriously consider an upgrade. When it comes to French dictionaries, bigger really is better.

Practice French Vocabulary

Once you've learned all this new French vocabulary, you need to practice it. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to find just the right word when speaking and writing, as well as to understand when listening and reading. Some of these activities might seem boring or silly, but the point is simply to get you used to seeing, hearing, and speaking the words - here are some ideas.

Say It out Loud

When you come across a new word while reading a book, newspaper, or French lesson, say it out loud. Seeing new words is good, but saying them out loud is even better, because it gives you practice both speaking and listening to the sound of the word.

Write It Out

Spend 10 to 15 minutes every day writing lists of vocabulary. You can work with different themes, such as "kitchen items" or "automotive terms," or just practice words that you continue to have trouble with. After you write them down, say them out loud. Then write them again, say them again, and repeat 5 or 10 times. When you do this, you'll see the words, feel what it's like to say them, and hear them, all of which will help you the next time you are actually speaking French.

Use Flashcards

Make a set of flashcards for new vocabulary by writing the French term on one side (along with an article, in the case of nouns) and the English translation on the other. You can also use a flashcard program like Before You Know It.

Label Everything

Surround yourself with French by labeling your home and office with stickers or post-it notes. I've also found that putting a post-it on my computer monitor helps me remember those terms that I've looked up in the dictionary a hundred times but still can't ever seem to remember.

Use It in a Sentence

When you go over your vocab lists, don't just look at the words - put them into sentences. Try making 3 different sentences with each word, or try to create a paragraph or two using all the new words together.

Sing Along

Set some vocabulary to a simple tune, like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" or "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," and sing it in the shower, in your car on the way to work/school, or while washing the dishes.

Mots Fléchés

French-style crossword puzzles, mots fléchés, are a great way to challenge your knowledge of French vocabulary.

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Team, ThoughtCo. "Tips to Improve Your French Vocabulary." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). Tips to Improve Your French Vocabulary. Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "Tips to Improve Your French Vocabulary." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 30, 2023).