This page is a work in progress. Please feel free to suggest resources that have worked for you in the comments.
Ah, French. One of these most popular foreign languages for native English speakers. There’s no surprise there considering it’s one of the most spoken languages in the world and the official language of several countries. It’s also one of the languages I speak at home.
I’ve had the opportunity to tutor in French for a few years and so I’ve worked with a variety of resources with my various students learning what works and what doesn’t (and that it’s different for everyone). Based on my personal experience, I’ve assembled this guide to share some of the books and language learning materials I have used and found to be effective.
The French Language
The French language, français, is an official language in 29 countries with close to 75 million native speakers. It is a romance language, and a descendent from Latin. French was the official language for diplomacy and international relations for centuries before it was replaced by English (although it is still used in several cases and holds importance as one of the languages of diplomacy still).
So why would you want to learn French? Well, that’s entirely up to you. I believe don’t that choosing languages for “practical” reasons is as effective for learning as choosing a language because you want to learn it. I suggest the same for you. For me, French is the only language I can use to communicate with a large part of my family and so it’s a very important language for me to maintain and use on a regular basis.
So, let’s look at a few resources you can use to help learn French.
How to Decide Which French Language Resources to Pick
Language learning texts and resources can get real expensive real quick. So rather than going at it randomly or by trial and error (which you’ll probably have to do some of anyway), I’d like to make a suggestion first.
The ability to use and understand a language is based upon four basic abilities: reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension. Depending on what your goals are, all four may not be necessary.
Let’s say, for example, you hope to take a trip to Montreal or Paris in six months. What language skills will you need? Basic communication and comprehension and basic reading (street signs, etc). You probably won’t ever have to write in the language. So, in this case, you might focus on developing your speaking and listening skills. If this sounds like you, I suggest checking out the audio or audio/text resources and the online resources below.
On the other hand, maybe your goal is to read French literature or poetry. In that case, learning to speak and understand the spoken language aren’t necessary and you can dedicate your energy to text. If this describes you, I suggest checking out the text and online resources below.
Ideally, you should probably develop some skill in each area, but the areas you focus on need to align with your goals regarding the language and how you plan to use it. I highly suggest picking resources based on this alone. Don’t get distracted with the temptation of shiny, new books (like me) and only buy materials you think you’ll actually use. You’ll save yourself a headache and a lot of money. Money that you can put aside for that trip to France!
A Few Things To Consider Before Taking on Any Language
- What is your motivation behind learning French? Take a moment to write down your language learning goals. It increases the odds of you achieving them. You can also join us as part of our Clear the List goal setting linkup!
- How many hours a day are you willing to study a language? Set realistic expectations for your progress.
- How do you plan on studying French? Are the methods that work for you available?
- You should setup up the French language keyboard on both your computer and your phone. It will help you with spelling and make chat easier on Skype/HelloTalk/etc.
- Be accountable. I keep my blog to help me be more accountable and use AskMeEvery to keep track of my daily study.
- Pimsleur French // try a free lesson.
- Librivox // get audiobooks read to you in your target language for free!
- TuneIn // French language radio (also try their Belgian station).
- News in Slow French // A podcast.
- Coffee Break French // A podcast.
Audio & Text Resources
- Le Journal en Français Facile // Get French news in easy to understand French with transcriptions available for you to follow along.
- 21 French Words You Might Be Mispronouncing // With audio and text.
- TV5 Monde // Learn French with TV5 Monde news reports created with various levels in mind.
- France Culture // A podcast about French culture with accompanying written articles. (Advanced)
- FrenchPod101 // Also an online resource, but it provides you with both audio recordings, text transcriptions and more.
- Why French is Easy from Benny Lewis // This is a great book that takes some of the aspects of the Spanish language that may scare learners away and explains them in a clear way that eliminates any fear of the language.
- French Tenses for Beginners // A look at a simple way to form the past, the present and the future in French.
- Harry Potter in French
- French Onomatopoetic Expressions
- French Animal Sounds
- Le Trone de Fer – “Game of Thrones” books in French
- Children’s Library
- Or you can check out other books Amazon offers in French – French Books on Amazon
- Lang-8 // Get your writing in your target language corrected by native speakers.
- FluentU // Read our review here.
- Speak in a Week // Another great resource from Benny Lewis that gets you speaking your target language quickly.
- iTalki // A great site where you can find language tutors or language exchange partners.
- BonjourdeFrance // A free cyber-magazine designed to help you improve your French vocabulary. Beginning to advanced lessons are available.
- Games for Language // I have yet to actually demo these games, but I like the concept behind them.
- Comme Une Française
- Watch French TV
- Tatoeba // sentences translated from any language in French
- MIT Open Courseware // French
- Learn with Oliver (formerly Antosch & Lin) // A flashcard based system with audio and a variety of exercises to help you learn your target language.
One of the best ways to learn a language is to listen to music in the language. It not only helps with improving one’s accent, but it also can increase overall comprehension. Plus it’s fun to translate the lyrics of your favorite songs. Here are a few artists I enjoy.
- Gerald de Palmas
- Damien Robitaille (French-Canadrian comedian/singer)
- Foreign Language Music Blog // a great blog with music in various foreign languages with lyrics and their translations
- Easy French // A great series of videos.
- Comptines Pour Enfants // A series of nursery rhymes in French.
- Bandgee // Tons of cartoons in French.
Learning about the culture that is tied to the language you’re learning is so important – the more you love the culture, the more you’ll love the language and vice versa. Discovering a new culture also enriches your life, particularly if it’s one quite different than your own. I highly recommend it if you haven’t started already!
Here are a few books on the history of France and it’s culture. You can also check out television shows or movies. I don’t suggest cartoons or films for kids because a lot of the language is often invented and you won’t get as much from it as you might from a drama geared towards an older audience. But if cartoons are your thing, go for it!
- The Story of French by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow
- Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey
- Childhood and Youth in French and Francophone Culture on MIT Open Courseware
- How to Tackle Gender Issues in Your Language // not necessarily about French culture, but about one of the more difficult aspects of the French language.
- Culture Smart! // A great series with introductions to various cultures around the world. For French, you can get started with France or Belgium.
- Christmas in France // A recipe for buche de noel, Christmas vocabulary in French, and the history of the Christmas season in France.
- Kouignettes // A delicious French pastry with a fruit filling.
- Duck & Goat Cheese Crostini // Great as a lunch item or as an appetizer!
- Bearnaise Sauce // I hope you don’t mind the butter 🙂
- Les Carottes Rapées // A crips and refreshing salad made with carrots and vinaigrette.
- Brie en Croûte // Brie with cranberries baked in a flaky crust.
- Macarons // Tips for making these tasty cookies.
- Accras de Morue // A delicious fried fish fritter from Martinique.
A Quick Note
If you’ve been learning French, I’d love to hear about your experience and some of the language learning tools you’ve found helpful. Please leave me a note in the comments! The same goes for if you have any questions. I will be more than happy to respond and I look forward to hearing from you!