How Long Does it Take to Learn French Fluently?
Whether just beginning your journey to learn French, or well on your way to fluency, you will have inevitably asked yourself, how many words do I need to know to learn French fluently?
How Long Does it Take to Learn French?
According to the Foreign Services Institute (FSI), French is a 'Category 1' language (for languages that are most similar to English). With 24-30 weeks of tuition, or 600-750 lass hours you will be able to reach professional working proficiency. Languages such as Mandarin Chinese and Arabic will take three or more times the amount of study hours to reach the same level of proficiency.
How Many Words Are in the French Language?
The biggest French dictionary, Le Grand Robert de la langue Française, contains over 100,000 words and 350,000 definitions, but you certainly don't need to know all of them to be fluent! As daunting as this can be, it is always scary when learning a new language! But before beginning your journey to fluency, you first need to ask yourself a few questions about what you want to gain from your French language learning journey.
Native French Speakers
Luckily, you do not need to learn all these words and definitions to consider yourself fluent! Many native speakers themselves will not scratch the surface of the massive 100,000-word count! Typically, native speakers themselves only know about 15,000 – 20,000 words! Our live dictionary at Newsdle knows more than a native speaker, clocking in at 23,000 words! I know what you're thinking, that seems a lot! But think about how many words you know in your native language, and how many new words you discover daily! Also, it is important to consider how much of language is specifically related to a topic, but we will touch more on this below.
The Pareto Principle
The 80-20 rule, invented by economist Vilfredo Pareto can be used when learning French. Now, you may be asking yourself, what does an economist know about language learning? Well, when applied to language learning, his theory suggests that 20% of words are used in 80% of conversations! Once again think about your daily conversations. Most of these comprise of the same words, used contextually to apply the correct meaning! Having a solid grasp of basic vocabularly is therefore key to achieving fluency quickly.
Why Do You Want to Learn French?
You also must consider what French words you want to learn, dependent on the experience of your day to day life. If you were studying at a culinary school for example, your range of vocabularly would be very different to someone studying art. The words that you commonly use in these environments will shape what you will need to learn to consider yourself fluent. This also makes your language learning journey easier, as you only need to worry about the vocabularly you need to learn!
Don't worry about learning words that you consider not to be a part of your language journey. If you want to be a chef in France, don't learn words that would help you become a tennis star! Take it back to basics. If you focus your language learning, not only will it be easier but it will be more interesting and fun, because you can practice the words you want to learn with native speaking friends!
See if there are vocabularly lists for the topic you wish to study. This will allow you to learn the words you need to learn. This is also important when studying lessons on Newsdle. If you use our search function on lessons to discover topics you are interested in, look at the keywords. Understand the keywords, and you will be able to speak confidently with French speakers on the topic of your interest.
What Does it Mean to Speak a Language Fluently?
However, first we need to take a step back. The key takeaway from our points above is that the number of words you learn is not relevant to telling us the level of fluency of a person! Don't get caught up in learning a sheer volume of vocabularly. This is because learning some French words is far more important than others, simply because they’re used far more often!
Think about the words you have learnt, how many of them would you use in daily conversation? This is a very important question when asking yourself how many words do I need to know to learn French fluently. Look at the list below of the 10 most commonly used words across different categories in French, and see how many you know!
10 Most Common French Words
- le, la, l', les: the
- être: to be
- avoir: to have
- de: of, from
- un, une, des: a, an, some
- je: I
- il / ils*: he, it / they
- ce: this
- pas: not
- à: to, in
Most Common French Pronouns
- mon, ma, mes: my
- ton, ta, tes: your, singular and informal
- son, sa, ses: his, her, or their
- notre, nos: our
- votre, vos: your, singular and formal or plural
- leur, leurs: their
French Question Words
- qui: who
- quoi: what
- quand: when
- où: where
- pourquoi: why
- comment: how
Most Common French Nouns
- tout, tous, toute, toutes: any, every, entire, very, whole, all
- ici: here
- là: there
- rien: nothing
- peu: little, not very, bit, few
- chose: thing
- autre: other
- temps: time, times, weather, days
- vie: life
- monde: world
- fois: time, times
- homme: man, person
- femme: woman
- veut: want, wish, desire
- quelque: some, a few, about
Most Common French Verbs
- être: to be
- avoir: to have
- aller: to go
- faire: to do, to make
- savoir: to know
- vouloir: to want
- dire: to say
- pouvoir: to be able to
- voir: to see
- devoir: to have to
Understanding The Most Common Words
If you know most of these words, you will be able to converse far more fluently thank you think! Although most of them are considered foundation level, having a grasp of the most commonly used words in France will allow you to display your language skills across France! These words make up the vast majority of day to day conversations in French speaking regions, so make sure you have a strong grasp on them. Basic vocabularly is so important when conveying fluency, and is one of the first thing native speakers will notice.
Shared English Words
As well as this, there are many French words that are commonly used in English, which significantly cuts the amount of words you need to know. It is estimated that as much as 30% of the English language is influenced by the French language! Words like accident, impossible and intelligent are the same across English and French and are known as cognates. Here is a list of some the most commonly used crossover words:
- Aviation – from the French word aviation
- Brunette – from the French word brunette
- Chauffeur – from the French word chauffeur
- Connoisseur – from the French word connoisseur
- Gastronomy – from the French word gastronomie
- Irony – from the Middle French word ironie
- Magnificent – from the Middle French word magnificent
- Restaurant – from the French word restaurant
- Sabotage – from the French word sabotage
- Souvenir – from the French word souvenir (memory)
Hopefully this list will reassure you that the learning French is far less daunting that you think! You know more than you think you do! You can also read about how the origins of "pardon my French", and the history of the French and English languages interconnectivity in our blog here.
The greatest indicator of fluency is that you can speak to native speakers comfortably, so get out there and practice! By knowing the most commonly used words in French, you may already have a far better grasp of the language than you think you do! Look at the long list again. If you are above foundation level, you will certainly know most of them.
As mentioned above, the Pareto Principle dictates that 20% of words are used in 80% of conversations, so you may have a better level of understanding than you think!
Having a strong grasp of the basics is the most important part of your language learning journey, and is commonly overlooked. Avoiding making simple mistakes is a key component of fluency, and is key when demonstrating your near-native level of French!
But, knowledge of vocabulary is useless unless you know how to use it properly to create sentences. Using Newsdle to learn French will help you improve your grammar with our grammar points on every lesson, as well as practice your listening and pronunciation with graded audio in every lesson! Discover more about how to learn French using Newsdle in our blog.