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I just tried speaking French for the first time and everything I've learned disappeared

I've been learning French for 281 days. I've not just been using Duolingo - I've used Clozemaster, Michel Thomas, Busuu, an old copy of Rosetta Stone, countless free resources, and endless French YouTube videos. I try and incorporate French learning into everything I do online - changing language settings for example (even though it's a pain in the neck sometimes). I get my news from France 24 as much as I can and I think I've watched every episode of Peppa Pig in French. If I watch something on Netflix, I'll either change the language to French or put French subtitles on. I have a French vocabulary and verb book in the bathroom. I mean, I've really been hammering learning French. I do at least an hour a day at a very minimum and some days I get carried away and do up to five hours.

I can't afford to actually go to France so I was beyond excited to have some French houseguests staying over. However, this evening, when I tried to talk in French, everything but the very basics completely evaporated. Words I would recognise in an instant on my computer just failed me. I could follow along with what they were saying pretty easily - not everything but I could make sense of it - but when I tried to say stuff, zilch!

I wasn't expecting to speak French for the first time and be really good at it, but neither was I expecting to feel like I've only been learning a week.

Why did I get a brain freeze when I tried to apply what I've been learning. Is this normal?

April 17, 2018



This is absolutely normal! I'd studied French for four years and then two years off and on on my own before living in France, and it took me a good 6 months to be able to contribute to conversations because they just go at such a high speed that by the time you think of how to say something, the moment to speak up is over.

I'd say try speaking to yourself in French, stopping in the middle of the day at random moments and translating whatever thought you just had into French. That gets you into the habit of constructing French sentences as thoughts come :)


That's a great idea. I try thinking and speaking in French (even telling my dog, "C'est une bonne fille !" et "Tournez à droite !).


Totally agree! I had a similar experience with English when moving to the US. In the beginning, I felt completely left out in social situations because I couldn't form a sentence fast enough to contribute to a conversation even though, back home, I did feel like an advanced English learner. Like you, I tried to speak to myself in imagined situations and eventually these "practiced" sentences made a big difference and overcame my fear of communications.


I do this too a lot and i haven't been to a French class in years, yet i still am able to hold a conversation because of constantly speaking to myself in French and translating things to French through the years




Oh my dear, don't worry! There's a lot of very good advice here. Try some of these ideas and give yourself time! It'll come.


This is normal. Listening to computer generated sentences (on DL anyway) is not the same as listening to real people with real accents speak a living language. This happened to me when I first started actually speaking Mandarin to Chinese people. I haven't used them myself, but I know websites exist where you can speak to people in various languages (using Skype or something of the kind). I would suggest this if you don't have any real life opportunity to practice.


YES! I loved travelling through France (before I started learning on Duolingo) and the kindest people were the ones who worked in souvenir shops. I would basically say in French "Hi! How are you? I don't speak French but do you speak English?" and if they didn't I'd just make do with the basics I did know. My trip really inspired and motivated me to start learning again and I struggle with the listening and speaking aspect.

Do you use the app HelloTalk? You can chat, video call, voice call and leave voicemail when communicating with other people. Right now I just focus on my writing but eventually I'll move on to trying to have voice conversations with native French speakers. The best part is that the people I talk to speak French natively and are learning English so we help each other out.


You sometimes hear stories about people going to live in other countries without knowing much of the language and picking it up by ear just from knowing a few basics. Sometimes I think this would be a much easier way to learn than hours spent learning verb conjugations.


French immersion is 100% the way to go. I plan to homeschool my own kids (I'm a nanny and tutor so my career has been entirely orientated around educating children) and when I do I'm going teach them French and IN French as well. I also currently practice with my little cousin who has just started learning it at school because it gives me practice with speaking the basics with her.

I don't know if Meet Up is a thing where you are but there are groups for all kinds of things. When I get more confident with my French I'm going to join a group for people who speak French so I can work on my listening and speaking.


Besides HelloTalk there is also http://www.hellolingo.com.

You can chat by choosing language partners from an online list, and once the chat window is established there is a "voice chat" button (I have not tried already).


Speaking and being able to quickly respond is an entirely different skill set than reading and listening, and it's one that french teachers in classrooms in my experience really try to hammer in. Reading and listening all your attention is put into translating and understanding, the words are there in front of you you just have to make sense of them. Speaking though you have to pull the words out of nowhere and put them together yourself and then say them. It's far more difficult.

Hell, I'm a native english speaker from the US with a pretty good vocabulary when it comes to reading and writing, but if you ask me a question in my own language I'm going to go completely blank. My internal dictionary completely disappears. I stutter, I stumble over words, all sense of grammar goes out the window. If I don't have a good amount of time to prepare an answer for something if you put me on the spot I'm going to go blank and answer like a kindergartner. It's just what happens.

There's a disconnect between the part of your brain that recalls words and the part that speaks them and the only way to really overcome it is to practice practice practice. Talk to yourself, talk to other people, just get talking. Talk constantly until talking feels completely natural to you. If you don't have someone to talk to yourself. Narrate what you're doing, ask yourself questions. Write a speech about some topic you're interested in and rehearse it. Prepare to answer questions on it. I've learned one of the best ways to learn a topic is to act like you have to teach it.


Meeting people on interpals (international penpals) and then skyping them usually works pretty well for me.


While it may be normal, it is nonetheless disturbing to have your mind go completely blank when someone asks you a question in French. I took a French class last year after having spent months on DuoLingo, and I blanked out repeatedly.


Yup. Totally normal. You haven't practiced your conversation "muscles" yet. That just takes time and exposure. I remember the first time I tried to speak in French, I was like a frightened rabbit! What changed was practice and time. I found someone I could speak to regularly. After a while that became less intimidating. Then I started speaking to other people too. I read out loud just to wrap my tongue around the words and even held mini conversations with myself. Even when I felt foolish, I kept talking! Keep jumping into the conversation when you can and keep trying! It gets easier, I promise. Soon those words that you have been saying out loud will come out of your mouth without even thinking. You will lose your sense of being self-conscience. Conversation will feel more natural and even fun! Be gentle with yourself and talk, talk, talk!


Not worrying about sounding foolish is important! Just talk and don't think about it. Just let the knowledge from inside your brain come forth.


Completely normal!!


I think being faced with actually using your knowledge after preparing so long for it will take everyone off guard, the first few times! It doesn't mean your work and practice is for naught. It's great you're so dedicated to learning the language!

It's a bit like how you can read all about how to ride a horse, and you know all the scientific facts and ins-and-outs, but actually getting on the horse for the first time will be very different and new.

You can't become fluent if you don't surround yourself with the language. Hearing people speak in the real world, not in a practiced way like on a test, or in a movie, will definitely help get you to the level of comfort you wish you had when speaking- and listening-to French.


You've built up a great passive vocabulary but it needs to be turned into an active one. I'm in exactly the same situation. Finding local French speakers is the best way to progress from here.


And I’ve found Meetups great. Also you’d be surprised how many people at your work/club have learned French or lived in France; you just need to ask around. Then it’s a matter of organising a regular coffee or lunch or whatever where a discussion can be had in French.


My teachers have all stressed the importance of language exchanges. There are sites on the 'net where you can find native speakers who also want to learn YOUR native language. You set up skype calls, in the beginning you can email each other scripts to practice with or topics you're comfortable talking about, and spend a prearranged amount of time working in your target language/their native language and then switch up to help them in their target language/your native language. Mutually helpful!

There are also apps on your phone for texting a language exchange. I believe one is called HelloTalk?


what site is this?


As others have pointed, live conversation is VERY different from lessons, reading text, and watching a show or movie. This effect is amplified by the fact that French is a language where everything tends to slur together when spoken quickly. I know everyone's motivations for learning a language are different, but I'd like to say that if you intend to land a French or trans-lingual job, this will not be a barrier. There are plenty of fields of work that will allow you to use your bilingualism without requiring you to participate in a fast-paced conversation. If this is an aspiration of yours (it's one of mine), I suggest doing research on such jobs.


regarde la filme francaise par habit, parle avec tes amis, lire le livre francaise aussi. J'ai ameliore ma francaise quand je passe trois semaine a Besancon en France . Ma premiere semaine etait tres difficile mais apres, plus facile. Essayer tout le jours. Bon chance mon ami. vous devez continue tout le jours.


I know what you mean, I am lucky that I work for a Swiss company and we have 2 French sites. We also have Swiss/French supplier and Pascale has let me practise my French writing skills on her.

I have just discovered that where I live (Bradford UK) we have a Foreign Language Circle that meet once every week for the different languages - French, German, Italian and Spanish. We meet up and speak on in the chosen language, have quizzes, presentations etc. It's great to go and just listen and join in when you feel confident enough to.


I've noticed that there are significant differences between learning something from a book and understanding it; in comparison to actually having a conversation with someone. Even practising speaking by yourself sometimes fails to prepare you for a real conversation. Know that this is definitely not your fault, it's normal and it's also something you can get over.

I suggest asking your guests, if they're not busy, whether they can practise speaking French with you and correct you if necessary. If you're shy and find that a bit awkward, maybe try and listen to words and phrases they throw around, and try and incorporate those in your speaking. It will definitely make a difference! Good luck mate :)


I think it's easier if you speak to just one person who is a friend. That way you're relaxed. I've found that having a glass of wine loosens me up a bit.

Being stressed out always leads to brain freeze.

If you're too self conscious, you won't be able to relax.


A glass of wine? There's an idea I haven't tried yet. ;-)


The "glass of wine part" is the best advice anyone could give! Getting just slightly drunk helps language more than anything else in the world! When I was struggling with my german and came to a party, i suddenly found i was quite fluent after 2 beers or so! (Beware, the effect goes to ❤❤❤❤ if one overdoes it)


Don´t sweat it. Learning a language and applying it is something quite different. It´s not like what you learn on duolingo or from textbooks is useless, but it takes time to learn to use it in practice. I learned german for 2 years (passively far, far longer as everyone in my family speaks it) and when I got to germany, I understood (albeit with difficulties) but to learn to actually express myself took about 3 months, and was struggling even after 6 months. French is even more difficult. I believe an important part of the process is to find out what parts of the vast theory you learned are actually appliable in everyday conversation. While DuoLingo allows for learning important stuff much better than regular classes, I imagine it will still be quite difficult. Good luck!


I say yes this is normal and please don't be discouraged. Be Brave!!!

I got the great chance to visit France last summer. When I tried to speak in French, people would either respond in English or would respond in French and I felt like a deer in the headlight.

Find opportunties to practice with others - conversation is much different than what you learned reading and listening.


It really is, isn't it? I realise now that my computer learning can only take me so far and now I need to somehow make the leap into speaking. But how can this be done on a limited budget without French people around to practice with?


I've had good luck finding language exchange partners on Conversation Exchange. http://www.conversationexchange.com - you create an account and then search for practice partners. You can search by various criteria such as gender, age, nationality, hobbies. You can search for pen pals, audio chat partners, or video chat partners. You can use their internal messaging service if you don't want to give out your email address.

Also check out iTalki, weSpeke, Busuu, and goSpeaky.


Did you have a good time in France? Did you come back feeling like your French had improved?


I loved France. My favorite part was Mont Saint Michele. I was very proud of myself because I was able to use the self checkout in stores. No my French didn't really improve. I think the time was too short. I liked to practice in the shops - they seemed more tolerant to my poor skills.

Some cities have Alliance Francaise orgs - that offer social hours and chances to chat in France I haven't tried it but hear they are great.


Thank you!! I never thought of this before but your comment made me think of Meetup groups. I just had a look and there's a really active French Meetup group where I live. There's one next Tuesday and I'm definitely going! I wouldn't have thought of it but for you, so thanks again!

It sounds like you had a lovely time in France. I just looked up Mont Saint Michele and it looks incredible.


Merci - bonne chance.


If you have discord try joining a french speaking chat. Or go on Italki to get friends to talk with. Good luck with your studies!


Yes, that is perfectly normal with French. You can learn a lot, e.g. be able to use five or six tenses and "talk" in front of a mirror, but in reality, you know practically nothing. Try Français Authentique, find him on Facebook. Bon courage !


One more thing - I was able to speak French in the school, but the "school" French has a little it with the "real" French. Then you have "the street French" and many local dialects. They are not so different like the Italian dialects but you can find many differences. Since 2015, I have worked with the Africans who don't speak English, but French. Almost a new language...


Yes there is no substitute for actually speaking. In my mind I have perfect recall and pronounciation but then I go to speak and it was so hard! It is as if you have to train the muscles of your mouth and the connections between your brain and your mouth. I go to a Meetups group and I leave buzzing!!


This is normal. In fact, it's to be expected if you haven't been training your active skills. Listening, reading, writing, and speaking are different skills. The first two are passive and are easier to develop. Even if you can recognize a word or a grammatical structure 100% of the time, that doesn't mean that you can produce it at a moment's notice. This happened to me when I started speaking a few months ago. I screwed EVERYTHING up. I mixed up the imparfait and the passé composé, i forgot 90% of the vocabulary i learned, I made the most basic mistakes every 5 seconds. Mistakes i would never make when writing. I try to have at least one session over skype w/an Italki tutor every week. A few months in now and I feel pretty comfortable having a conversation. They may not be extremely deep, and I may still make some basic mistakes (last week I said "à les gens" instead of "aux gens"), but I don't dread speaking, or freeze up, or feel dumb (anymore lol). Speaking is simply a separate skill you have to learn to develop. If you can afford to, i highly recommend using italki.

Don't be discouraged please! It is normal! Bonne chance et bon courage !

(In about 6 weeks I will be leaving for a trip to France for 3 weeks. This will be my first time travelling. Wish me luck!)


I relate so much too!


I think this is totally normal. At least, I hope it is because the exact same thing happened to me when I had an opportunity to speak Swedish. I completely blanked and I just assume that the person I was speaking to thought I was lying about learning the language. (Although that would be a weird thing to lie about.)

Going from reading and listening to having to interact in real time is a big change and very different than other skills. Take heart, you'll get better with practice.


Hoppas det går bättre nästa gång


What helps me with my Spanish that I am currently learning is to watch the Spanish/Mexican/Colombian etc telenovelas on my computer with Spanish subtitles. Not just to listen but pause the movies from time to time and REPEAT aloud the sentences trying to mimic the native pronunciation, first by reading them and then repeating without looking at the screen. Pretending that you are one of the characters in the movie.

Also, when doing my morning chores/shower, I am listening AND REPEATING LOUD youtube videos with recorded random phrases first in English and then translated to Spanish. Listen to the same videos many, many times. Until you remember them by heart. This link is just one of the multiple examples for the French phrases that you may find useful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0071A-34gbE

The idea is that you should perfect a set of basic useful sentences in French so that they will come automatically when you need to use them in a real life. It will provide you with some necessary comfort particularly at the beginning of the conversation.

Memorizing French songs lyrics and signing them aloud should help, too (of course if you like to sing). Anything to force your tongue to speak French and feel natural!

BTW, I share your passion for French: it was my first foreign language that I learned (my maternal language is Russian). I am currently trying to "refresh" my rusty French with Duolingo program. Good luck!


Yes, I sometimes have/had the same problem with English. It's a matter of passive and active vocabulary, being unused to speaking it yourself and being nervous.

The good news is that it's relatively easy to get through, it just takes a bit of time. If you aren't doing that already, try writing and/or answering comments in french and try to get an opportunity to speak french (Maybe play video games with a voice chat on french servers? If you have a mic, that is.), speaking will help more but composing your own sentences independently will make things easier, no matter how you do it.

There is also another issue that, while I don't think is very likely since you seem to be watching French television already, might still be a problem and that's the translation mindset. If you have to (or try to) translate everything back and forth you may be okay when reading but would be hopelessly lost in conversation as it takes way too much time to translate what the other person said into English and your response back into French to hold a conversation. Actively interacting in French will help with that as well, as will trying to think about the things happening around you in French.


How do you do on the exercises where you have to recall the French, as opposed to translate to English? It's not speaking, but if you can recall quickly to write, at least you can recall, and quickly :)


Hey there - have a lingot! I feel the same with German - reading and writing is so much different to speaking it. I find that I can speak and pronounce stuff, however when hearing other people, they're so fast that I miss things. Its about not giving up though and we shall get used to it :) R xx


well, sometimes I have studied REALLY hard on a test, but when the actual test comes around, I freak and forget everything. So, I guess this is pretty normal.


Yes, this is normal. Don't let it distract you from learning!


This is me! What we learn on our own is a completely different beast from what happens in real conversation with native French speakers. I thought I was prepared before I moved to France, but I am very much NOT. lol Getting there, though.


Speaking and listening to natives in real time is the most difficult challenge to learning a new language. I have just come back from Costa Rica where I was traveling with my son-in-law who is a native Spanish speaker. I had some modest success with understanding. The joke is I always could figure out what was said after everyone had left the room. But I was finding that I could follow about half of the casual conversation that my son-in-law had with natives. I could follow when he talked about his grandmother from Guatemala and how Guatemala was similar to Costa Rica with regards to climate. I could generally order food in a traditional restaurant setting (street vendors not so much) and twice I helped my son in law with a vocabulary word. Since he was born in educated in the US he has some lapses in vocabulary occasionally. My best achievement was a joke I made with the taxi driver who was driving us over a dirt road to get to a waterfall where we were going to go swimming. I said “El coche es un SUV.” (The car is an SUV.) And he grinned and replied “a veses.” (Sometimes)

As far as improving conversation I have found that having a translator app to practice many times what is offered in Duolingo is very helpful. I downloaded an app that was only about $10 and I repeat the the sentences and phrases from Duolingo dozens of times using the app. One big benefit these applications have is they list out every word as you speak it. Duolingo only says if a sentence is good or not good and I have found I think I am mispronouncing a specific word only to find out in the speaking app it’s actually a different word that I messing up. I also do conversational bots hundreds of times, always speaking and using every conversational variation possible. Finally (in addition to only speaking Spanish with my cat), I write dialogues of my own which I also practice in the speaking app.

Next step is dialogue with real people but I have found that if a computer translation app (clearly less smart and intuitive than real humans) can follow my dialogue people will also be able to understand it. I think the speaking app has given me a lot of confidence and made me more prepared for dialogue with people.


two things you need to do.

Every time you log in to duolingo you must keep your eyes away from the screen or close them. This will make your ears familiar with the sounds in your mind and register them for later use in mental vocabulary.

also, all you really need is french radio. If you keep watching different things you will get enamored with the film. Our minds really dont like to do two things at once so give yours a break. If you must watch something in french just make it a well known film to reiterate lessons learned.

p.s. keep english conversations to a minimum of an hour. If you do the other two consistently you will hear other english speakers speaking french when you know they arent. this is a sign that your mind has finally registered some of the new language.

plus tard, mon amis!


Hi Alex,

you did a lot more in your first year than I did in Portuguese (BR).

Sounds like a good plan to strongly focus on speaking for the 2nd year, e.g italki, language exchange tables, visiting local schools for group conversations, etc. :-)

Q: Have you already started the Duo reverse tree French-English?

If you compare Memrise reviews on the web portal with Cooljingle's user script "all typing" where you have to RECALL words/phrases/sentences (e.g offical FR 1-7 courses) in your L2 target language French and then DuoLingo:

It becomes pretty clear to me that you have been mostly trained on DuoLingo for the last 284 days in recognizing words / sentences by listening or reading or by translating into English on a higher ratio instead of actively producing (writing / speaking) in French.

At least this is the case for my tree with crown levels L1 + L2.
Has this got any better for you with L3 or L4 skill crown levels??

Every time I use the "timed practice" for my EN-PT tree and a more difficult / longer EN-PT translation pops up, I get quickly lost without 30-60 seconds time remaining.
I obviously do better with PT-EN translations.

Q: How have you been training RECALLING (or self-rating French answers which is possible on Anki) with 3rd party software?

Have you tried Memrise, AnkiSRS, SuperMemo, etc.?

At least I can turn all this multiple-choice stuff OFF by using user scripts.
Too easy....waste of my time... I would love to do this on Duolingo, too!!! (but I can't because programmers do not add user settings).

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