Laura K. Lawless is the creator, writer and editor of the popular French language learning website called Lawless French.
From grammar lessons to speaking tips and vocabulary, her website offers tons of free resources for language learners and teachers — including, we are proud to say, listening practice based on our own Ilini videos.
Lawless French is turning 5 this year, and we found it a good time to learn more about Laura’s journey.
We wanted to hear about her own relationship to foreign languages and the satisfaction she gets out of helping people learn French.
In this interview, Laura also tells us about her life in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and shares tips and recommendations for language learners.
Bonne lecture !
Guadeloupe — “It’s still France but infused with Caribbean culture”
Laura, we love Lawless French! Before we get to it, can you tell us about your personal story and how you landed under the sun of Guadeloupe? We’re kind of jealous…
I’d always wanted to live in France, but when I finally managed to move to la Métropole in 2008, I discovered that the weather didn’t really agree with me. I’m très frileuse, as they say, and even in the South of France (Hyères and Menton), I found the winters unbearable. (And the less said about the Mistral in Hyères, the better!) My husband and I had the opportunity to visit Guadeloupe and Martinique for a month, and I just fell in love with the friendly people, beautiful beaches, and of course the tropical weather, so I convinced him to move here in 2013. It’s still France but infused with Caribbean culture: a bit more laid-back and a lot warmer.
Where does your passion for foreign languages come from? Can you trace it back to one defining moment of your life?
Kind of. I remember the first time I was exposed to foreign languages: I was eight years old and had this novelty calendar with the numbers one to 10 in a different language for each month, so I thought that was fun. My older brother was learning French in high school so he taught me up to 20, which intrigued me, and then when I started studying with a real teacher, I was hooked.
Besides French, you speak and work in several foreign languages. In your view, how is French different from other languages?
Ah, it’s funny you ask that. French people are always telling me it’s very impressive that I speak it fluently because “French is so hard.” I adore French, it’s a truly beautiful language, but I don’t think “difficult” is its defining characteristic (especially compared to Greek, which I’m really struggling with). I’m realizing that the pronunciation is one of the main things that sets it apart. The rhythm in particular is unusual, as there’s no stressed syllable in each word the way there is in every other language I’ve studied. Plus, while most learners struggle with the ‘u’ and ‘r,’ I recently discovered after all these years that I don’t even pronounce ‘ou’ correctly – a sound I’d always considered pretty simple because it has a close English counterpart. Turns out it’s not as close as I’d thought!
“There’s something about the beauty of the language combined with the wonderfulness that is France and French culture that keeps them (us) always coming back for more.”
How did you come up with the idea of Lawless French?
Oh, that’s a long story! I wanted to be an interpreter and did one year of a Master’s program at Monterey Institute of International Studies but I was unable to finish (much detail cut) so in the late 90s I found myself stuck working as an administrative assistant. I did some soul searching and realized that what I really wanted to do was work at home, and as luck would have it the internet was taking off around then, so I taught myself HTML and started looking for work building websites. I found a dotcom that was looking for a French expert and got hired as an independent contractor. I created content, moderated chatrooms and forums, and poured my heart and soul into my site there, but after 15 years (again, much detail cut) it was time to part ways, so I quit and started over with my own site.
Francophiles love Lawless French and you have managed to build a strong online community. How do you explain this enthusiasm for your site?
I think Francophiles are some of the most enthusiastic and dedicated language learners around. There’s something about the beauty of the language combined with the wonderfulness that is France and French culture that keeps them (us) always coming back for more.
Also, I think I manage to distill grammar concepts in a unique way that gets through to learners who have struggled with other explanations. My teaching style isn’t for everyone of course – I’ve been criticized for being too focused on grammar – but I teach what I know and how I think, and it works for a lot of people.
What personal satisfaction do you get as the creator of Lawless French?
I love French. I love speaking it, I love hearing it, and I love being able to share it with people all over the world who are equally passionate about it. Through my site, I’ve also been lucky enough to meet dozens of people in real life, a few of whom have become close friends. And the fact that I’m able to make a living doing it is the cerise on a really big gâteau!
“Francophiles are some of the most enthusiastic and dedicated language learners around.”
What makes people want to learn French nowadays? Do you notice an increase in the number of learners?
Generally, I’d say wanting to travel and/or fascination with the language, though of course there are also the lucky few who fall in love with un.e Français.e and need to learn in order to communicate with their new family.
As for number of learners, it’s a little hard to say because I lost the vast majority of my followers when I went out on my own, and even now, nearly 5 years later, my numbers are a drop in the bucket compared to what they were. So I don’t really know what the upper end is any more. Though I can say that I get new readers every day and they are still as enthusiastic as ever!
From your experience, what are the main difficulties encountered by people learning French?
Pronunciation of course, as I said above, and the whole concept of verb conjugations for native English speakers. Aside from that, there are a number of key grammar points that are always tricky, including passé composé vs imparfait, the subjunctive, and verbs with prepositions (like apprendre à faire vs accepter de faire).
What would be your top recommendation for learners of French?
When you get frustrated or hit a plateau – and you will – go to France. Seriously. There is nothing like being in France and using your French – however much or little of it there may be – to inspire you.
Lawless French lessons based on Ilini videos: