Learning French is a relatively easy way to improve one’s CRS score. By achieving an NCLC level of 5 (equivalent to B1 of the CEFR) or above for all four abilities (speaking, listening, reading, and writing), one can increase their CRS score by 16 points. (This applies to the Federal Skilled Worker Program. For other programs, please refer to this link.)
How long did it take me?
First a disclamer. I was already familiar with French as a written language long before I decided to move to Canada. I read Le Petit Prince and L’Étranger with the help of a dictionary, although I could understand nothing when I watched TV or films in French, nor could I have a conversation in it. Besides Dutch, English, and French, I also learned to read German, Latin, and Greek. So I certainly am more used to language learning than the average person.
It was the decision to move to Canada, and the uncertainty whether I would have enough points, that prompted me to improve my spoken French. I had my first private lesson, which focused 100% on conversations, on 2 February 2017. I had in total 12 lessons, the last of which took place on 6 April 2017. I did not take any test at that time since I already had enough points for Canada PR. But I am quite sure that my NCLC level was already at or above 5 for both listening and speaking by that time. (Eventually I got my French officially evaluated, for free, on 24 October 2017, when I was already in Canada as a Permanent Resident. I got 6, 7, 8, and 7 for reading, writing, listening, and speaking, respectively.)
How I achieved this result and some advice.
An absolute beginner who does not live in a French-speaking country should first focus on grammar and vocabulary, as well as some general pronunciation rules. I highly recommend French for Reading. Although I had had some French at school, it was really this book that helped me learn enough grammar and vocabulary to read the two books mentioned in the beginning of this post. The last few chapters are not really necessary as they are about highly literary French that is hardly used even in modern literature.) I managed to finish this book in about two months a long time ago.
The reason why one should not completely ignore pronunciation in this phase is that it is easier to learn the general rules from the very beginning, than to learn many words with the wrong pronunciation and to correct them later. There are always exceptions (e.g. faisant). But it is important to know the general rules, e.g., that ille should be pronounced /ɪj/ as in fille instead of /ɪl/ as in file.
When you are reading a text, it is good practice to try to apply these pronuncation rules and to read it aloud. It does not matter if your pronunciation is terrible. The purpose here is to learn how to apply these rules without too much reflexion.
Repetition is key to learn new words and conjugations. Rather than reading a lot of different texts, it is more effective to read the same text many times until you can understand it without having to translate individual words to your own language, or to analyze each sentence’s grammatical structure.
Repetition can be very boring. Therefore you should only read texts that are not too difficult and whose content is interesting to you.
Finally, it is better to spend 30 minutes a day every day without exception, than to spend 8 hours every Saturday.
I really don’t have much to say about writing. It seemed more like a natural consequence of reading a lot.
The only way to improve one’s listening is by listening to a lot of French that one can understand. It is not necessary to understand 100%, but you must be able to grasp the overall meaning. This means that you must already know enough vocabulary and grammar before working on your listening.
I once wasted a lot of time listening to materials (news, films, etc.) that were too difficult to me. It was frustrating and did not help at all. Luckily I found Français Authentique. Its owner Johan has made a lot of audio files freely available on this website. He also publishes podcasts and has a Youtube channel. He always articulates and is probably the easist French-speaking person to understand. I suggest that one should start with his Les 7 Règles de Français Authentique. Each of his recordings is accompanied by a PDF which can be very helpful if there are words that you don’t know. When you are done with Les 7 Règles de Français Authentique, try his podcasts (free) or his Pack 1 or Pack 2 (paid).
I listened to his audios every day, for at least an hour a day, when I was commuting or simply taking a walk, until I moved to Canada. (I still listen to his podcasts regularly.) After about a month or two, my listening improved enough for me to understand about 70% of le Journal Télévisé sur France 2. In fact, le Journal Télévisé sur France 2 has become one of my daily routines. Depending on the topic, now I can often understand more than 90% of its content.
I walk to work and it takes about 35 minutes each way. I use this time to listen to Johan’s podcasts, or France Info (via the app Radios France), or L’heure du monde (podcast).
My private lessons in Singapore did help, but I certainly could have saved the money. I sometimes talk to myself in French. Also, I try to practice French when dealing with the government (including the IRCC) or the customer services of banks, mobile plans, etc. After all, they are completely free and it is their problem if they get annoyed by my less-than-fluent French.
It is futile to try to speak French without first being able to understand spoken French. The key here is in fact more about listening as much French as you can (while you understand it), rather than trying to talk prematurely.
The only book that I consider an absolute must is French for Reading, as explained previously.
I have also been using Alter Ego+ and I am quite happy with it. You can download the accompanying Guides Pédagogiques if you are self-studying as I am. It is practical only when you can already read French with relative ease.
I recently read, or am reading, the following books in French, because their content was or is interesting enough to me.
Free French courses for new immigrants
There are two free French courses for new immigrants living in Ontario: CLIC offered by the Federal government, and FLS offered by the Provincial government. There is no difference between the two except their source of funding.
Unless you are an absolute beginner, it is necessary to first have your French assessed. If you are living in Toronto, call YMCA Language Assessment and Referral Centre (416 925 5462). The assessment has four parts: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. At the end of it, you will be shown all the possibilities in Toronto and you can choose which one fits your schedule the best.