Language enthusiasts looking to learn French online have come to the right place! In this article, Superprof will give you some great insights into French history and how to learn advanced French through history lessons. With such a background, you will be conversing with native French speakers like a pro!

A lot of the specialized vocabulary used in history books is used in current affairs and other modern contexts, so this will also help your comprehension of the news.

Not many online French classes are rooted in French history because it is not often that students or even teachers of the French language realize how valuable history lessons in French could be in learning this beloved foreign language. After all, what is modern language and culture but a series of chapters in history!

What are the origins of the French language?
The Romans were responsible for significant linguistic changes across Europe ¦ source: Pixabay - wanderertravel

A course in French history will provide the necessary experience to gain confidence about a culture that takes pride in its language and develop a more nuanced understanding of how to read, write, and speak like a native French speaker. By placing language in a historical context, learners of the French language push themselves further towards gaining fluency by connecting at a deeper level with native French speakers.

Few would believe it but history can be a great teacher when it comes to picking up a foreign language vocabulary and develop comprehension skills. Read historical texts in French to further enhance your language skills.

French is a descendant of Vulgar Latin (distinct from literary Latin) and belongs to the Romance branch of the Indo-European family of the Roman Empire. With the Roman conquest of ancient Gaul, now modern France, in the first century B.C., the native Gaulish, a Celtic language, soon came to be supplanted by the Latin of the Roman rulers.

French language, French français, probably the most internationally significant Romance language in the world.

Even after the occupation of Gaul by the Franks, a group of Germanic tribes in the 5th century AD, Romanization was retained. This resulted in the inheritance of several hundred words of Celtic origin in the modern French language, along with hundreds of Germanic words, the overarching structure and vocabulary of the French language borrowed heavily from Latin.

The First Signs of Modern French

Just like your first French classes, the origin and evolution of the French language had a starting point. The first document, the Strasbourg Oaths, apparently written in French probably dates from 842. The Oaths are a Romance version of oaths sworn by two of Charlemagne’s grandsons.

The Advent and Predominance of Francian

In the 12th–13th century, a new dialect slowly came into prominence. This was the Francien dialect which gradually gained the status of a literary language due to its usage in the important region of Île-de-France region and the political and cultural influence of Paris.

The Francien dialect, essentially a north-central dialect with some northern features, had been preceded by other dialects, such as  Norman (which developed in Britain as Anglo-Norman, widely used until the 14th century) and northern dialects (such as Picard), which was more prestigious, especially in the literary circle.

A legal reform carried out in the mid-16th century, the Edict of Villers-Cotterêts (1539), established Francien as the only official language due to its popularity as a written form. From then on, standard French began to replace local dialects. The grammar and vocabulary of the modern language were sought to be standardized.

Traditional French dialects in each region
A map of the traditional dialects across France ¦ source: Wikipedia

How to Use History Lessons to Learn Advanced French

There are many history courses available online which you can utilize to enhance your understanding of the French language. Do your own research or ask French tutors to guide you. Check out Superprof for the most well-trained and highly experienced native French speakers to tutor and guide you on your learning journey!

Be it beginner, intermediate or advanced courses in French, organizing your learning is absolutely critical for your success at learning French. Create a timeline of events that you learn during your French history lessons. Keep a notebook for this purpose. Read a lesson and make notes of the important information from the topics. Choose topics that interest you!

Enhance and enrich your knowledge of the French language and culture with French history lessons.

In order to take advantage of history lessons, take all of your notes in French. This will help you get better at reading French, practicing French grammar and vocabulary, as well as in building visual associations with those words. You can also use flashcards to memorize your vocabulary lessons better. Use the vocabulary you have learned to write essays or to read new history books in French, or any other book about France.

Top 5 French Language Lessons from History for Advanced Learning

Once you decide to invest your time in learning the French language using history lessons, you must also know which chapters in history will best serve this purpose. You can choose a free lesson or learn with a more advanced lesson form that cost some fee. Here are our top picks in history lessons to enhance your French language learning.

Hundred Years’ War

This was a series of battles fought between the House of the Plantagenet (England) and the House of Valois (France) from 1337 to 1453. The wars resulted in significant political and social changes in both France and England.

Key vocabulary:

  • l’oubliette — dungeon; think of oublier (to forget) as the dungeon is where people were put to be forgotten about.
  • moyenâgeux(euse) — from the Middle Ages
  • s’identifier aux valeurs françaises — to identify with French values

Colonization of the Americas

The French were among the original explorers of the Americas. In fact, if history lessons are to be trusted, the French were the friendliest of all European explorers towards the Native Americans.

The greatest success of France in America was the place names they left behind (including Vermont and Illinois) as well as the people who settled there from France.

Key vocabulary:

  • le commerce équitable — fair trade
  • la surexploitation — over-exploitation
  • le tiers-monde — the third world
  • le métissage — cross-breeding; the origin of the métis people (Native American and French mixed race people)
The most successful dialects are the ones on the peripheries of France
Breton is among the very few regional languages which have been preserved alongside Basque and Catalan ¦ source: Pixabay - Pexels

The French Revolution

The Revolution completely changed the political, social, economic, as well as ideological mindsets of the French natives. In fact, the effects of the Revolution stretched far beyond the geographical realm of France, to the major parts of Europe and some other parts of the world.

Key vocabulary:

  • ébranler la démocratie — to weaken democracy
  • entamer une campagne militaire — to embark on a military campaign
  • soulever de vives protestations — to provoke vigorous protest
  • une poigneé de privilégiés — the privileged few

The Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic wars were a watershed moment in the history of warfare itself. The ideas of conscription and total war, with a majority of citizens involved, were first drawn up during Napoleon's campaigns.

Key vocabulary:

  • un grand tournant historique — epoch-making event
  • lancer l’offensive — launch an offensive
  • se heurter à une menance — to come up against a threat

The Belle Époque

The epoch stretched from 1871 to 1914, marking a period of innovation, flourishing of the arts, and joie de vivre (joy of living). In fact, haute couture, for which Paris is globally famous now, was invented during this historic period.

Key vocabulary:

  • l’exposition — exhibition
  • un monde scintillant — a glittering world
  • le foisonnement d’innovations — profusion of new discoveries

The Status of French Today

The French language has grown in popularity and importance the world over. It has been recognized as the official language in 33 countries and as one of the six official languages of the United Nations. The French language has different variations and dialects, although Parisian French is considered the model of the French language in France.

The French language is in a constant state of evolution from a linguistic perspective, although it has not undergone too much structural change since its standardization. Therefore, learning the French language can be a truly pleasurable experience, irrespective of your motivation to do it.

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Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.