When I first asked myself this question several weeks ago, I thought: yes. Yes, you can learn a language in 30 days if you are really motivated, dedicated to that, and you can focus only on studying. Or if you live in a country where the language you’re learning is the official one, and you are interacting with native speakers all day long.
But what about trying to do it while living in your own country, having a full-time job and a personal life, and enjoying the small joys of life? It seemed impossible but I was up for the challenge.
The thing is I have always liked the way French sounds, I love French literature and I am interested in French history, so I always wanted to be able to speak French. But I have always been scared to try for a number of reasons (pronunciation seemed terribly difficult to master, I was told grammar was terrible with more exceptions than rules, and I’ve heard that French people would pretend they don’t understand you and won’t talk to you unless your French is perfect).
Maybe you have your own reasons not to learn a language. You can always think of reasons NOT to do something but this time I just said to myself I was going to do that.
It was now or never. So I set this challenge for myself, I said I was going to try and learn French in 30 days. I needed this deadline because I’d been putting this off for years, and I really needed to be focused on that, I had to set this goal in order to make sure I would really do it.
First, let me say I had a huge advantage – I can already speak Italian and Spanish which are Roman languages just like French, and they share a lot of similarities in terms of grammar and vocabulary. My native language is Bulgarian, though, which has nothing to do with French (apart from a few loan words). But in general, the more languages you can speak, the easier it gets to learn a new one, so I had this going for me.
I got a self-study book, and I downloaded the Duolingo app (which helped me a lot while I was learning Spanish), and basically these are the only resources I used, together with the vast internet full of tips, helpful people and opportunities to practice. (You can scroll down till the end of the post to get the full list of recommended resources for learning French on your own).
So what happened next? Follow me through my 30-day-long journey of learning French:
Day 1: I was at work during the day, and started studying right after I got home, and I:
- started with pronunciation – words in French are not exactly pronounced the way they’re spelled and up till now pronunciation is the greatest difficulty I’ve had while learning French
- learnt 151 words while exploring the various sounds and the rules of how to pronounce certain letters and letter combinations
- the first grammar lesson was definite and indefinite articles (which are basically following the same principle as in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, so that was easy)
- passed the first Duolingo level: Basics 1. It helps you learn some basic words, such as the French for ‘boy, ‘girl’, ‘cat’, ‘apple’, ‘black’, and also a couple of personal pronouns and forms of the verb ‘to be’. Pretty basic but quite important as a start.
Day 2: it was Friday before a long weekend due to bank holidays in Bulgaria, and I wanted to spend it with my parents so I went back to my hometown and started studying when I arrived in the evening
- completed the Basics 2 level of Duolingo in which I started conjugating verbs in present tense
- revision of the words I learnt the previous day
- dived into basic grammar: personal pronouns, verbs avoir (‘to have’), être (‘to be’) and aller (‘to go’), and possessive pronouns
- learnt the numbers from 0 to 10
- learnt 27 new words from the self-study book
Day 3: I was at home with my parents, and didn’t go out all day. I had decided to focus on studying, and more importantly, on practice to make sure I fully understood the basics so I could continue learning more without having too much on my plate
- completed the Common phrases level on Duolingo
- learnt 141 new words
- revision of the words I had learnt so far
- did around 40 grammar exercises online (definite and indefinite articles, personal pronouns, possessive adjectives, plural nouns, adjectives, verbs avoir, être, and aller)
- watched a zap on izap4u for an hour
Day 4: I started studying as soon as I got out of the bed, then in the afternoon I went to a beach nearby with some friends to enjoy the last summer days.
- revision of all words I had learnt until then
- 3 Duolingo categories completed (Food, Animals, Idioms and Proverbs)
- grammar (1st group verbs in positive and negative sentences, and in questions; demonstrative adjectives, the pronoun ‘on’, tonic personal pronouns)
- numbers from 11 to 60, and the days of the week
- 96 new words
Day 5: I went back to Sofia in the evening but before that I studied a lot:
- the imperative in French
- 3rd group verbs
- 107 new words
- grammar and listening exercises online
- Adjectives level completed on Duolingo
- 30 minutes watching izap4u
Day 6: it was Tuesday, the last day of the long weekend and I wanted to use the free time I had to practice using the various verbs I’d learnt in present tense. So I did:
- verb exercises online
- plurals, être / avoir, clothing, colors on Duolingo
- watched an hour of izap4u
- 52 new words
Day 7: Back to work. I had to study in the evening:
- 5 Duolingo levels completed (Possession, Present 1, Demonstratives 1, Conjunctions 1, Questions) – most of these I already knew but it was good practice
- I kept on doing verb exercises because I felt I needed more practice on that (and because it’s fundamental to be able to use verbs correctly)
- I reviewed all words I had in my notebook to make sure I know them all
- 38 new words learnt
Day 8: I went out for a couple of beers after work, so I really didn’t have much time to study in the evening. I still spent about half an hour doing some exercises because it was important for me to dedicate some time to learning French every day
- I did some grammar exercises
- completed Present 2 on Duolingo
- learnt 31 new words
Day 9: It was Friday and I went to an open-air concert. No time for learning French that night but it was totally worth it.
Day 10: I stayed at home all day and didn’t go out at all, party because I wanted to make some serious progress with my French and partly because I was hungover.
- quite a lot of new grammar: future tense (futur proche), direct object compliment, partitive articles, adverb y, past tense (passé composé)
- Infinitive and Adverbs 1 on Duolingo
- half an hour of Izap4u
- vocabulary test on the words I’d learnt
- 221 new words
Day 11: Sunday. I was studying until late afternoon, then I went out
- 4 levels passed on Duolingo: Occupations, Negatives, Conjunctions 2, and Adverbs 2
- verb exercises online
- trying to translate some basic sentences in French (I used this method a lot when I was teaching English and it seemed to work quite well with all my students; it’s just that when YOU have to construct an entire sentence, you learn much more than when you just have to fill a gap in a given phrase)
- new grammar: indirect object compliment, adverb en, recent past tense (passé récent), past tense with reflexive verbs
- numbers from 70 onwards
- 113 new words
Day 12: I had two Polish couchsurfers arriving in the evening but I had one or two hours after work to study before they came
- Household level passed on Duolingo
- comparative and superlative degrees, future simple tense
- 86 new words
Day 13: I cooked dinner for the couchsurfers and then they left, so I had some time to study in the evening:
- relative pronouns and adverbs
- Objects and Prepositions 2 on Duolingo
- 44 new words
Day 14: I had a beer after work with some friends, and then I went home for my daily dose of French:
- I did a test on the words I had learnt
- I learnt 100 new words
- Adjectives 3 passed on Duolingo
Day 15: I studied for a couple of hours after work, and then went out to unwind
- Completed Places, Irregular plurals, and People levels, and had 4 out of 8 lessons on Present 3 on Duolingo
- grammar, listening, and reading exercises online (I found a great website podcastfrancaisfacile.com where you can listen to an audio, and read its text – aboslutely recommended for anyone who is struggling with French pronunciation like me)
- 68 new words
- 1 hour of watching izap4u
Day 16: It was Friday and I was going to Berlin for the weekend. I had just enough time to complete the lessons on Present 3 on Duolingo which I had started the night before, and I had to leave.
Day 17 and 18: I was in Berlin and had no time for studying, or practicing. Maybe I should have gone to Paris instead but I had planned this trip before I decided to start studying French.
Day 19: I studied for a couple of hours after work, and then I went out with some friends
- 5 levels on Duolingo: Passé Composé, Imparfait, Directions, Numbers 2, Passé Composé 2
- learnt another tense: imperfect (imparfait), and did some exercises online to practice it
- 33 new words
Day 20: I had just one beer after work, and then went home to study
- 2 levels on Duolingo (Possessives 3 and Feelings)
- verb exercises online (with all these new verb tenses I needed to practice I lot!)
- 42 new words
Day 21: It was Wednesday before another long weekend. Lovely bank holidays in Bulgaria this September!
- 3 levels on Duolingo (Demonstratives 3, Pronouns 2, and Advjectives 4)
- I did a vocabulary test on the words for which I had made mistakes on the previous test, and this time the result was better
- I made up a verb exercise, in which I had to conjugate 20 verbs in all verb tenses. This way I found out which was the most problematic one for me: future simple, so that I could practice more on that.
- A new verb tense: Plus-que-parfait
- 89 new words
Day 22: the first day of the 4-day weekend, yay! I spent it studying French:
- 2 levels on Duolingo (Infinitive 2, and Abstract Objects 1)
- revision of all words in my notebook and exercises online
- new grammar: gerund and present participle
- 100 new words
Day 23: I went to visit my grandma who lives in another town. It was a 6-hour journey with a train, and I used that time to cover all the grammar I had left in my self-study book:
- lots of grammar: Future in the past (futur dans le passé), Near future in the past (futur proche dans le passé), Conditional, Subjunctive, Simple past (passé simple) – most of these exist in Spanish and Italian, as well, so I needed to remember just the verb endings which were different
- 2 levels on Duolingo: Communication and Adverbs 3
- 30 new words
- online exercises
Day 24: I had already covered almost all the grammar, so I used the time on the train back to Sofia to:
- practice the verbs in all those lovely tenses I knew already
- read more about prepositions
- complete 3 levels on Duolingo: Abstract objects 2, Reflexive verbs, Passive voice
- learn 44 new words
Day 25: Sunday, the last day of the long weekend. Although I had covered all the grammar, I wanted to practice and complete all Duolingo levels
- 7 levels on Duolingo: Infinitives 3, Prepositions 3, Pluperfect, Abstract objects 3, Nature, Gerund, Materials;
- exercises online
- 160 new words
- I bought a book in French; I decided I was ready to start reading books with simple vocabulary (so I went for Charles Bukowski)
Day 26: I focused on the areas where I felt I needed improvement, such as articles:
- I did several exercises on articles and it became much more clear
- 6 levels on Duolingo (Arts, Future, Weights, Medical, Politics, Subjunctive present)
- I read the first chapter of my book (1 page)
- 108 new words
Day 27: I actually didn’t have any time to study, or practice that day, but while I was at the hair-dresser’s I completed 4 Duolingo levels (Education, Imperative, Conditional, Past conditional) – having no time is no excuse!
Day 28: I passed 4 more levels on Duolingo (Science, Transportation, Past subjunctive, and Spiritual)
Day 29: I read 22 pages of the book in French and did the lessons on Sports on Duolingo after work.
Day 30: the last day of my challenge. I passed the last level on Duolingo (Economics), and did quite a lot of exercises online to make sure I have no weak areas.
So, after the month was over, I knew I did very well but I wanted to know how well exactly. So I did 3 online tests to check my level, and I got 3 different results: B1, B2 and C1 according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
I personally think it’s safe to say my level is closest to B2, which is a great result for just one month of studying French on my own.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter if it is A, B, or C – when you learn a foreign language, your ultimate goal is to be able to communicate using it. I am not sure I am, since I haven’t really tried yet (which is probably my biggest mistake) but I know I have a solid foundation, and from now on I can only try to improve my French until I am really fluent.
Anyone can do this in 30, 50, or 130 days – you just need to be determined to learn a language, and dedicate some time to the learning process on a daily basis. You can always find an excuse not to start now but the longer you wait, the less likely it is you will ever learn the language you have always wanted to be able to speak.
List of online resources I used (and would recommend to anyone who wants to learn French on their own):
- Duolingo – it is a great app which helps you practice the language by repeating words, translating sentences, constructing phrases, and other methods which help you learn without any pressure, just like playing a game. You can’t rely solely on it to learn a language but it’s a great supplementary tool, and the best part is that you can use it on your way to work, at the hair-dresser’s (like I did), or just about anywhere when you have 5 spare minutes. It supports 20 languages right now, so you can use it to learn almost any of the modern languages.
- Podcast français facile – it is a website with tons of French audios you can listen to, and read the text while you do it so that you can practice both listening and reading. It is amazingly helpful at the early stages of learning French when you listen to French people talking and don’t understand a word.
- Izap4u – as I’ve said before, this is the best tool you can use to learn French while having fun at the same time. You can watch compilations of videos which are either with French audio, or with French subtitles, and you won’t even realize how you get to understand more and more with every zap you watch.
- Français facile – think of it as a huge database with exercises. The categories you can choose from in the main exercise page are not really clear but I discovered that you can access all exercises (47 pages with 100 exercises on each one). This was really useful especially at the end of my learn-a-language challenge when I wanted to practice all the grammar concepts I had covered.
- Exercises.free.fr – a website with grammar and vocabulary exercises in French. I personally used it for verb conjugating practice but it covers only 5 verb tenses in the indicative mode.
- Film Fra – here you can watch French movies with French subtitles. You can choose from quite a lot of movies, and watch them online, or download them for free.
Do you have any other useful resources for learning French online? Please let me know in the comments. And please share the post with anyone who is struggling with learning French, it might be helpful for them!
4 thoughts on “Can you learn a language in 30 days? [Case-study]”
Interesting article. Would you explaining a bit more how you learned the 151 words day one?
Thanks for your question. Actually the first lesson in the self-study book I used was about pronunciation (and that makes total sense, of course), and for each sound there was one word in which it’s contained. This is how I learnt all these words just while learning the sounds. You can find something similar in this website, and you can also hear the actual sound, which is even better than reading it in a book 🙂
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Hallo ,I read it, interesting. thank u