The five stages of learning French

I've been studying French for a while (once upon a time in school, et then starting again around two years ago), and I've noticed several stages in my French learning which I'm curious if anyone can relate to.

Stage 1: Using French words with English grammar

"'These are her red dogs' = 'Ce sont sa rouge chiens'" - The first stage results in translations like this. French words, English grammar. If you know English and all the words in that sentence, it makes perfect sense to you. But it's not French, it's just French words. In French that sentence should read "Ce sont ses chiens rouges", with proper agreement and adjective placement.

Later on in this stage you use less English grammar but you still have those English reflexes and you still have a tendency to do a few things the English way, eg. placing regular adjectives before the noun. When you reach the point where you only anglicize one or two basics, you're well on your way to Stage 2.

Stage 2: Speaking English with French grammar

In Stage 1 you spoke French with English grammar. Now you've reached Stage 2 and as you've learned French grammar you've begun to incorporate it into your English. You start saying "It is a professor" or "He is professor", you say "It is a large apple red", you ask "Is it that the fruit green is an apple?" You are forever using the wrong possessive because you match it to the gender of the word in French, not to the owner. And all your friends think you've gone mad (and might be right!). Then at last the languages begin to sort themselves out in your mind and you start using the right grammar with the right language. At this point you progress to Stage 3.

Stage 3: Franglais

After all that mixing your French and English grammar, you've finally learned to keep them straight. Now you begin to speak a new language: Franglais. You speak chaque langue avec its own grammaire, mais vos sentences are a mélange of les deux, et only those qui speak both English and French can comprendre ce que you say. Vous pouvez understand this perfectly, et votre écriture et speech are very much comme ça. Et quand vous essayez to speak to quelqu'un qui doesn't understand French, you generally devez traduire. Your friends really pense que vous are insane. Lentement, vous mix the two less and less, and you reach the next phase: Stage 4.

Stage 4: English English and French French in their proper places

You've mixed English grammar and French words, French grammar and English words, and spoken a mix of perfect French and perfect English. Now you have finally reached the point where not only do your French and English each use their own grammar, but you use only one at a time and you always use the one you want. You probably still make mistakes in your French, but at least it doesn't have all that English mixed in. You study and practise your French more and more, and eventually you reach the long-awaited goal of Stage 5.

Stage 5: Fluency

After all that study and practise at the end of Stage 4, you have gained a good deal of French knowledge. You know your grammar and have a large vocabulary. You can speak to and understand natives without making an inordinate number of mistakes. You've reached the goal you've striven for for so long: fluency.

I'm currently in Stage 3. I speak a lot of Franglais, and there are probably a few French words scattered around in this post that weren't intended to be. I'm aiming to reach Stage 4 in the next couple of months.

But what I really wanted to ask was, is it just me? Am I the only one going through these stages? Or can you relate? If you can, which stage are you in?

December 14, 2016


Just a note when it comes to stage one and learning a foreign language as a native English speaker. Once you stop asking why and allow Spanish, French, Japanese, Korean, Hungarian, German and any other language to be their unique selves, you will easily skip Stage 1.

I have noticed that many language learners often question the grammar of foreign languages because there's an odd level of expectation or entitlement . . . in my opinion. For example: Many learners either ask why are there so many gendered words in French (or other Romance languages) or they're complaining about it. I have many examples that I can highlight or one can simply check out the discussion forum here and other online sites.

The one solution I would suggest to avoid Stage 1 is to simply accept French (or any other language) as it is. During the initial stages, don't worry about grammar. Yes, grammar is important but learn the language while you're having fun. Mimic some one properly making a speech, a sentence and declaration, or singing. Introduce some grammatical concepts slowly as you continue to get a lot of input. The language will surely make sense on its own merit.

December 15, 2016

Very good points. I've found that I haven't really had Stage 1 in my Polish, possibly because I have experience with how to NOT use English grammar from my French and the grammar is so different that it's a lot easier to not mix in English grammar and some of the differences are similar to French grammar. For instance, the agreement of adjectives. It's just a small step from agreeing in gender and number to agreeing in gender, number, and case. And cases are so completely different from English or French grammar that I have no idea how I would go about writing Polish with English grammar.

Still, we keep our English reflexes for a long time and stupid mistakes happen (far too often with me). I still find myself reverting to English grammar once in a while when I'm trying to write French while very tired. That's what moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2 is really about; letting go of your English reflexes and replacing them with French ones. Certainly it will be much easier and faster if you follow your advice (which I highly recommend), but you still need to train your brain to not automatically say "le rouge chien" or whatever when you're not really thinking about what you're saying.

December 15, 2016

"train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose" - Jedi Master Yoda

(Sorry I couldn't help myself with a Star Wars quote) . . . The fear that many language learners have to overcome is being wrong, making mistakes, sounding dumb, being misunderstood and of course worrying if someone is going to make fun of you. I really like your phrase "letting go of your English reflexes."

December 15, 2016

It's not actually mine, I borrowed it from Sitesurf. :) It's even worse if you're painfully shy in real life, like I am. It's bad enough talking to people in English when I know what I'm talking about and know I'm not going to make a fool of myself, it's far worse in any other language.

December 15, 2016

This video helped me overcome some of my apprehensions, I thought it might be helpful. Japanese and Korean students discuss learning English, particularly English grammar and their fears. It is subtitled.

December 15, 2016

Thank you! Shy, not initiating conversations, yeah, sounds familiar! :)

December 15, 2016

This process looks and feels very familiar to me, even though mine has been working in reverse.

I still use a lot of Franglais for various reasons, one being that some words or phrases come faster to my mind in one or the other language. Sometimes, I just can't find the proper French word and some English terms seem impossible to recall.

In my never-ending Phase 5, I have also made embarrassing silly mistakes still popping up from Phase 1 (prepositions!), and learned to forgive myself for such.

In my past 4 years of Duolingo, I have had to review my own French grammar, and realized that a whole life is not enough to entirely master any language, including our mother tongues, if we don't work and practice enough and regularly.

I have a theory about those who constantly question foreign grammar : in a number of countries, the education system has favored the discovery approach to learning, and praised the question "why?" which may not be relevant to all learning subjects.

December 15, 2016

I believe that learning to forgive oneself and continuing to try is a difficult, but absolutely necessary, thing to do. I still blush just a bit when reading passages I've written even as recently as...yesterday. I have also said some very embarrassing things, and will likely continue stumbling upon novel ways of making mistakes in French, as well as repeating old ones, for a very long time.

However, when encountering mistakes made by others learning English, it does not bother me in the slightest. In fact, I think the natural impulse is one of respect for making the effort, compassion, and a desire to help. It is challenging! English is messy. The spelling is outrageous, there are nearly as many exceptions to the rules as there are rules, the grammar tricky even for native speakers at times, and there are hundreds of irregular verbs to memorize.

This respect and compassion ought to be internalized. It is something I am trying to do, but meanwhile the desire to learn is stronger than momentary embarrassment.

December 15, 2016

Je crois que I tend to write et penser en franglais. It's une catastrophe complète. J'espère qu'un jour I will be able de placer les mots dans their propres langues. At least, avec le temps.... ;)

Très amusant Emilie, merci !

December 14, 2016

You're definitely Stage 3 comme moi. I wonder which of us will arriver à Stage 4 first? :)

December 14, 2016

I can easily relate to the first stages. Although, it's even harder for me because I have been learning French from English, which is my second language. I am always mixing English grammar and French grammar because unconsciously I'm applying the same method that I used while learning English. Plus, French has lot in common with Portuguese (my native language) then sometimes it's easier to translate something to it than English, but in order to improve my second language I'll stick to it till the end. As you can see I still have a lot to improve. This comment is pure Portuguese structure, but with english words. I hope to get at Stage 5 as soon as I can.

April 20, 2018

I've never gotten stage 3 in any of the languages I tried learning O_o My german is at stage 4 I'd say and french almost there....but skipping stage 3 XD

closest would be purposefully speaking like that in the ghaeltacht (an irish immersion 2 week summer boarding school...) where you could be kicked out for speaking a full sentence of english... but I can't remember ever doing it by accident... :D

December 14, 2016

Well, admittedly that paragraph is somewhat exaggerated (and was quite a lot of fun to write!). :D Apparently I'm not the only one who reads it as if it were perfectly normal, though. :D I don't normally speak in such a complete mix as I wrote that paragraph, but it's quite common for me to switch language mid-paragraph, or even mid-sentence, and sometimes switch back again, usually all without noticing. And I regularly use the wrong language, so I have to repeat myself in the other.

December 15, 2016

I have stuck english into my french when speaking to my mother....(she is french, my french sucks) and I've noticed it in my indian friend speaking to her mother XD The english sneaks in, but to me it's noticeable, and I internally cringe for not remembering the other language word!

It was a very funny paragraph!

December 18, 2016

Interesting thoughts! I grew up in Miami with a lot of Cubans there, but I had a hard time with Spanish grammar. I've noticed that, after studying French for a little while, that Spanish is much easier now. For something totally different give Irish a try.

December 15, 2016

I noticed the same thing with French and Polish. I started studying Polish, and all of a sudden French was much easier. Probably because Polish is so difficult for me by comparison!

December 15, 2016

I started studying French and realised how little English I actually knew. Considering English was always my best subject in school, that's an unsettling thing for me to learn about myself. :-)

December 15, 2016

I already had a fair amount of knowledge about English (studying the history of grammar and etymologies have been hobbies ever since I stopped being forced to learn grammar and therefore disliking it), but I've learned more rules than I knew before I started studying French. A lot of things I just did the right way naturally without having a clue that there was a rule to it. Then I read explanations of the French rules and mentions of English rules made their way in, and I started trying to explain English to non-natives. :)

December 15, 2016

Exactly, we learned how to use the rules without realising they were even rules. I too love etymology and love the podcast "A Way With Words". I love hearing people asking why about words phrases and expressions that we take for granted.

December 15, 2016

Precisely. And explaining them is so much fun, especially since it's a chance to show off. :)

December 15, 2016

^ Yes, this! I did very well in English grammar in school, but it wasn't until I started learning French that I realized how much I relied on sentences "sounding" correct in English without necessarily knowing why. Why does it have to be that way? What is the rule? It's been eye-opening for both languages. I will have to check out "A Way With Words," it sounds interesting. Thanks!

December 15, 2016

Thanks! I'll listen during my break. :)

December 15, 2016

LOL i love this and may relate a bit? i just started french recently so don't feel qualified to answer but think your on to something :0) born into english language but not well schooled so speak it but not always grammar correct. about a year ago discovered duolingo and after decades of being a wantabe spanish speaker i am learning it and doing pretty good (reading and writing)- (finished tree but going back to really "get it") so if you really want to laugh and have people think your crazy just add another language. (im also learning sign language with my grandchildren and the other day it was the first response that popped in my head but usually i get what ever language im suppose to and amazed that yes people can learn and speak more then 2 languages at a time)

December 18, 2016

I'm a couple of weeks into attempting to learn french (took it at school, but never gave it any real effort).

Thanks you for this.

Seeing these stages written down will be very helpful in recognising and avoiding these pitfalls, of which I think, knowing my mind, I may well fall victim to.

I'm at Stage 1 at the moment, but I've noticed that recently, on occasion when speaking English, my speech pattern alters ever so slightly. That;s Stage 2 creeping up on me, while I'm still in Stage 1! Which is incredible since I've only been studying for a few weeks now.

Regardless, I'm thoroughly enjoying the experience.

December 18, 2016

I think I might be in the middle of franglais et Anglais et french in their proper places thanks

December 23, 2016

I think the best way to learn a foreign language is to do it like a baby would: listen, mimic and repeat, without questionning yourself with grammar...

May 14, 2019
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