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I can read French very well but can't speak it well?

When I'm faced in a conversation in French I just freeze up and its like all my knowledge of the french language and the vocabulary I've learnt just disappears. It's so frustrating! Has this happened to you and do you have any tips? Thanks. :-)

July 31, 2015



You need to read out loud to yourself. When you are reading, you are probably using a lot of passive vocabulary. You cannot learn new words from reading alone. You need to hear the words spoken, even if it is your own voice. Also, the way you learn to speak more fluently and natural is speaking to yourself in an imaginary situation. This actually works because there is no pressure at all. Therefore, when you speak with another person you might speak a little bit slow, but when you speak alone to yourself you will find that you speak very fast and naturally, because there is no pressure. Eventually you will be able to speak as fast as native speakers in a conversation. I recommend that you try it.


Thank you, very helpful! ^^


The first time I went to Paris, after six years of formal and informal study of French, I only spoke two full sentences in French the entire time, when I (terrified) explained to a museum ticket salesperson that I was an American university student. It's taken me a really, really long time to get my confidence up in French. The best thing for me has been taking conversational French classes where students are not permitted to speak English, and barring that, finding someone I know who speaks French to talk to (though only recently have I even been able to hold conversations with a good friend of mine who speaks better French than I do, because I used to always freeze up speaking to her). My biggest problem was being afraid of making mistakes in French and having people judge me for being wrong, because I knew my spoken French had many more flaws than my written French--being in a conversational class really helped me accept that most people absolutely do not care if you make errors as long as you're comprehensible, and the errors will go down as you speak more. Also, it's totally okay for your spoken French to be at a five-year-old's level! My conversational French improved dramatically when I stopped trying to say what I would say on paper and instead just spoke very simply.

For sort of basic fluency/pronunciation, to echo the sentiments of several commenters, reading aloud is awesome (I would read sentences from the newspaper or a novel again and again until I stopped tripping over certain phrases), as well as just... talking to yourself? Like, while you take a shower, narrate stream-of-consciousness what you're going to do today ("hmm peut-être je vais aller au supermarché, je pense que je doit du beurre..."). It'll help with pronunciation and just get that flow going.

J'espère que ça t'aide, et bonne chance !


It's really normal to have better skills in reading and writing than in speaking and understanding, for several reasons.
1. You are using different parts of the brain when reading and writing. 2. You don't have to respond as quickly - that fraction of a second additional that you can take to formulate your written response or review the sentence you read makes a HUGE difference. 3. Listening and speaking are sort of like driving a car, tap dancing, gymnastics or any other skill that needs to co-ordinate multiple skills and parts of the brain. Until you've done it often you can't do it well - and sometimes, if you try too hard, you go backwards. Plus, there's always performance anxiety. Think of something you've rehearsed until you can do it in your sleep, when you're alone. It's a lot harder to do it in front of people.

Suggestions: When you are speaking, just let it rip. People will either ask you to repeat yourself if they don't understand (giving you a little time to think about your answer, help you, or suggest a word if you get stuck. It gets easier with time, like the practice you do in dance, or music, or anything else you really want to get good at.

Don't be afraid to ask people to repeat themselves. They'll usually slow down, rephrase to something simpler, or start using gestures along with their words. These all help.

Depending on the context, rephrase what the other person said to be sure you understood. This also gives you more time to formulate a reply.

Try to do your internal dialogs in your target language.

And don't give up.


Very helpful, merci!!


it's natural speaking and listening are the hardest and last things to master while learning a language reading is easier just keep speaking and listening and reading a lot and you will get better and develop and ear for the language like how natives learn their language .learning a language takes time that is why so many people quit


That has encouraged me to not give up, merci. :-)


It's okay! I actually come from a family of French and Creole. It's going to sound crazy but speak to yourself in French sometimes. You have to be comfortable with your French before you speak to anyone else. Fun Fact: When I'm home alone I actually walk through my house and name everything I see then I make sentences with it. Secondly, I open photo albums or when I cook I direct myself in French . Also, I usually choose 3-10 words per day to use (like learning a SAT word). Repetition and utilization of the word like "J'ai faim, je veux manger du poulet avec legumes."Before you are able to speak a different language you have to be able to effectively translate mentally. That's how I learned how to speak Creole.


I will start to do that, thanks! ^_^


Yes, that's quite normal when you prioritize acquiring passive skills (reading and listening) over active one (speaking and writing). Which is what Duo does, and if you just study using Duo, you will fall short in this way. Add to that psychological factors (insecurity, shyness, fear of making embarrassing mistakes), and it's not really a surprise people generally have more difficulties speaking.

I'm like that too. When I first learned languages in school, they had courses which offered very little speaking practice. Then, when I first studied by myself, I didn't know any better, and I used to prioritize reading and writing, and put speaking off "until later". So I had a pretty rude awakening when I moved to France; I could read newspapers, but saying anything at all was difficult, and forget about making actual conversation. My French was much worse than I had thought.

Now when I study a new language, I include speaking from the very start. And because I am introverted, exhortations to "just open your mouth and talk to random strangers on the street" (like Benny Lewis wants us to) don't work; it goes too much against my personality. And while reading out loud is ok (I did that for years thinking it would help my speaking skill), it doesn't actually tackle the skill needed for speaking freely. So I talk to myself. Flashcards go on every item in my home, and I keep a running commentary of what I am doing with the items. This scales pretty well, I start with real simple stuff: "this is the refrigerator" and eventually work my way up to "I open the refrigerator and take a look inside. There are 3 different kinds of cheese, a ripe tomato, and some moldy bread. That bread has been there for at least a month. I am such a slob." At that stage I am ready for italki and a native language partner. Somebody who is less introverted can start using italki sooner, I am sure. Me, I actually like to be able to have a conversation in which I can form entire sentences. I like italki because everyone is there for the same reason -- to learn/teach a language, and we all know that it's not gonna be perfect, but we also know we want to be corrected. It's not like strangers on the street on whom I might be imposing my mutilation of their language -- what do they get out of it, and are they gonna tell me what I said wrong? Probably not. Definitely try italki. I also use lang8 for daily writing practice; native speakers will correct it.

So yeah, talk to yourself. All the time. Inside, outside. Describe the world around you in French. Try to make yourself think consciously in French for some time every day, the sooner you get away from translating, the better. And listen actively, engage with material you're listening to, don't just watch movies and listen to audio as a consumer. Talk back to audio. Use audio materials you have on your own computer which you can easily stop and start again, so you can "shadow" sections (parrot the speaker, speak along while they're speaking, trying to keep up). That helps with pronunciation, rhythm, flow, and speed. Write about what you heard afterwards. Try to talk about it freely, as if you were telling a friend about it. Then talk to your language partner on italki about it.

Good luck! You'll see this will ramp up your speaking ability in a relatively short time.


Wow, a lingot for you! (I would offer more if it allowed me). Thank you for this, it's very detailed and extremely helpful. I also know of Benny Lewis and I too am not keen on the idea of walking up to random strangers.

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