The Key to Learning French

Learning French (or any other foreign language for that matter) can be a daunting task, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be. You’ve got a much better chance of success if you understand the basic principles of second language acquisition. These three factors will help you on your journey of learning French.

The Journey of Learning a Foreign Language

Total immersion, coupled with commitment and motivation, is undoubtedly one of the fastest ways to learn any new language. There’s nothing that concentrates the mind quite as fast as needing to communicate basic needs, especially when you’re in a hurry.

But you don’t have to ship off to France just yet.

Whilst I was lucky enough to spend over half a decade living there, I also studied Spanish (without ever living in a Spanish-speaking country), am currently learning Swahili, and also teach French classes and hold workshops.

Past experience has taught me that the best approach to learning any new language is a multi-pronged one and Second Language Acquisition (SLA) researchers seem to agree.

Although there are many differing opinions, experts point to three basic principles: input, output and interaction.


Over and above taking classes or using self-study methods, you need to see your brain as a sponge and take in as much information as you can from different sources.

Plug in by reading as much French as possible. Read what interests you, in print or online. You can also listen to French music and rent movies. Keep stimulating your mind and you’ll soon see a vast improvement in your grammar, vocabulary and writing, even if you’re a beginner and it all seems like Greek to you.


This is where you need to take a more active approach. You need to write and speak as much as you can, even if you’ve got nobody to talk to. Do exercises, write sentences and practice your pronunciation. Get CDs or listen to online clips that leave time for you to repeat whatever was said. This will loosen you up for when it comes to the real deal.


This is where you put into practice everything you’re busy learning and it’s a vital part of the process. SLA experts seem to feel that ‘feedback’ helps speed up your learning. When there’s a communication break-down, you also have to think quickly and find solutions, and this pushes you to further develop your skills. Even if you don’t live in a Francophone country, you can still interact by finding someone online and communicate via email, or take part in forums or sign up for various French language and culture groups in your area.

These are just some ideas you can use to follow the three principles of input, output and interaction.

I’ll follow up soon with more links and ideas to help you on your path to (almost) French fluency. Get in touch if you have any questions, ideas or tips and tricks that helped you to learn a foreign language.


The Top Ten Reasons To Become A Freelance Translator

In medieval Europe, a freelance was a mercenary soldier or adventurer. Today, life as a translator bears a thrilling resemblance to both of these things. If you’re just starting out or are thinking about a career in freelance translating, here, in no particular order, are my personal top ten reasons to keep doing what I love.

Freelance Translating: Life as an Adventurer


1. Location Independence

Even though I’m based in South Africa, I’m able to do business with clients from all over the world. This means I’m not restricted to the pool of locally available jobs and can scout further afield to find new contracts.

I can also work from home in my office, outside on the porch overlooking the river or sit at a beachside café. All you really need is a laptop and a reliable connection. As long as you’re consistently providing an excellent service, there’s no prescribed place to do your work. This thrills me to no end and if you’re anything like me, I’m pretty sure it’ll thrill you, too.

2. Working with Words and Language

Loving words and language is a prerequisite in this industry. Or at least, if you’d like to make a success of it, because that’s what we get to do – all day, every day. Whether it’s the continued learning of your source language, or making sure it’s rendering in the target language turns out just so, working as a translator is extremely satisfying.

As an aside, I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that many translators are also writers at heart and translating allows us to fulfil this need of twirling the pen.

3. Research, research, research

Translating includes a lot of research and if you enjoy it, this might be a good career choice for you. Whether it’s looking up precise terminology or learning exactly how something works, there’s plenty of time spent reading up online and in books.

4. The Art of Translating

Translating can be quite creative and it’s an art. It’s not about ‘making things up’ when you come across a sticky problem, though. You need to be extremely precise – a lot can be at stake. Nevertheless, there are many instances when an exact translation is impossible. Finding the most faithful solution that stays true to the original tone and intention of the message can fulfil the need for creativity in one’s professional life. 

5. The Money, Honey

There are no two ways about it: freelance translating can be extremely lucrative. In fact, earning six-figures  (in dollars for those of us with the not-so-hard currency) is not merely pie in the sky. As with most freelance careers, however, it’s up to you and how much you’re willing to further yourself, find financially rewarding jobs and put in the hours. Corinne McKay wrote a great follow-up to her original ‘six-figure’ article. You’ll find plenty of information on how much you can expect to earn, as well as a rather lively discussion in the comments.

6. No Obligatory Watercooler

Many translators are quite a private bunch who like to get on with their work in relative peace and quiet. I happen to be one of them. Not having to mingle is a real bonus for me, unless of course it’s for a specific event or job. That said, in my daily life, I can choose to be as chatty as I like, because there are many virtual watercoolers where it’s fun to come up for a breath of fresh air when things are  getting a bit lonely at Translator HQ.

Artwork on the Camino di Santiago

7. No Jacket Required

Yes, you really can work in your pj’s if that’s what you fancy. I choose not to, because I’m lucky enough to have my own separate home office and generally like to get up at a reasonable hour, have a shower and get dressed into something that feels professional. No jacket, of course. But this is something I learnt early on. It helps me to distinguish between work time and ‘normal life’ time. But not having to span the gamut  of full hair and make-up saves a lot of time and is a definite plus.

8. It’s a Good Choice For Night Owls and Early Birds

Keeping your own hours is another big advantage. I’m a big believer in working according to one’s natural rhythms and cycles to boost productivity and, quite frankly, help us keep sane. Time differences in other countries may sometimes mean that you need to change your availability, but  this can often be worked out by finding a mutually convenient time.

9. Stationery ‘n Things…

This is my wildcard reason, which may only apply to me. It’s the stationery: the-pens-and-pencils-and-highlighters- and-dictionaries-and-notepads-and-files-and-folders ‘n things. They all give me a rather cheap thrill. I’ve always been a bit ‘bookish’ and these things just make me happy. Go figure. My guess is, I’m not the only one, so if you also have this quirk, please feel free to pipe up.

10. The Stimulation of Running your own Business

As a freelancer, you’re an entrepreneur. You’re entirely responsible for making sure your business succeeds. Besides the actual translating, there’s marketing and admin and all the other corollary aspects to running a business. It’s the crossroads where the mercenary soldier and adventurer meet. It’s a thrill, because no two days are the same, but you also need to know how to stick up for yourself and look after your professional and financial wellbeing.

So these are my Top Ten and I’m sure many other translators do what they do because of these very same reasons. Let me know what else you enjoy in the comments or via email, maybe we should try to get to a Top Twenty?