Learning French can be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of moving to or purchasing a second home in France. To help you get started, here’s our pick of the best apps, YouTube channels, lessons, and other resources.
Why You Should Learn French
Do you really need to speak French to live in France? It’s true that in certain areas, such as Normandy and the Dordogne, there are large English-speaking populations. If you don’t speak French it is quite likely you know someone who does, or there will be French people who speak English. Many people get by with minimal French.
On the other hand, at some point you will almost certainly find yourself stuck without help at hand. Not to mention the cultural effect of not knowing the language: it will be much harder to make French friends and fully take part in the life of your new community.
So, for practical reasons as well as a desire to integrate, it is worth learning French. Once you’ve made the decision, try to master the basics before you move, if possible. This will give you a headstart as you build a new life in France.
Getting started speaking French
While adult education classes are still a possibility, the internet is much more convenient for many people. There are hundreds of different courses and resources to choose from and they are better at striking that balance between formal, grammar-based French and the language that people really speak. Below is a selection of resources that you may find useful.
Learn French Online: Websites, Apps, and Audiobooks
Think of Babbel as your comprehensive learning kit, minus the heavy books and endless lists of vocabulary. Babbel’s learning methods are designed by a team of language experts with one single goal in mind: to get you speaking. Their award-winning app lessons are only based on relevant, real-life dialogues that you can apply right away and their selection of cultural podcasts will easily keep you engaged.
However, your safest bet to confidently holding a conversation in French is Babbel Live. In this more traditional teacher-student setting you’ll get to practise your French pronunciation, receive instant feedback and connect with other learners. You can join the classes from anywhere, all you need is a laptop and wifi.
Many people swear by Duolingo. It is app-based and you can choose your level of commitment from 5-20 minutes a day. You can choose different categories such as People, Travel etc. and will learn specific sentences and phrases. Elements of grammar are included but this is not taught systematically. Duolingo won’t make you fluent but it will give you the basics to help you manage everyday situations. It is also free.
Lingoda uses qualified, native-speaking tutors. It is structured in line with the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for languages, which classifies your fluency on a scale from A1 to C2. This framework is recognised across Europe so it is a useful benchmark to show anyone your level of competence.
Lingoda requires a substantial time and financial commitment. However, there is an intensive version called the Lingoda Sprint which aims to have you speaking real conversations within three months. If you finish the Sprint you can claim a partial or full refund.
French Today is composed of a series of audiobooks that can be downloaded via an app. It was set up by a French couple who lived in the USA for 17 years and draws on their first-hand experience of learning a foreign language – English. It also teaches French via everyday situations but focuses on grammar more than some courses.
The recordings can be played at normal and slower speeds. This helps the listener to pin down the correct pronunciation and understand longer sentences. There are also two levels of enunciation: the formal way to speak and the way French people speak in real life.
Although French Today is paid-for, the website also has an extensive blog containing free articles on all aspects of the language. If you already know some French, this is a really useful resource for filling in gaps in your knowledge.
All told, this is a very comprehensive resource for learning French.
Learning French on YouTube: Free Learning Resources
YouTube can be a real rabbit hole. You can spend hours following links to hundreds of resources but below is a (very) select choice. You will probably find these most useful once you can speak some French.
Comme Une Française
Géraldine Lepère lives in Grenoble but spent some time studying in England. She started her Comme Une Française channel with short videos illustrating cultural details of French life, transferring her experience of grappling with a new culture in England. She has since expanded into full language courses, but her early videos are still extremely useful.
So, if you need to know how the French celebrate Christmas, vocabulary for the garden centre, or how to navigate the hairdressing salon for the first time, this is the place to find out. Thoroughly recommended for bite-sized insights to French and French culture.
As the name Street French suggests, this young pair of YouTubers (one French, one American) aim to teach French as it is spoken in real life, covering all those small expressions, slang and colloquialisms that formal courses often omit. They also cover cultural references such as French social media, football and native French YouTubers. Follow this pair and you will soon be dropping ‘bah’, ‘ben’ and ‘quoi’ into your conversation like a native.
The Français Authentique channel is more explicitly aimed at those who already can speak some French. Many of the videos focus on details of verb usage, tenses and grammatical details that will mark you out as a competent French speaker. Johan speaks extremely clearly and is very personable – occasionally he features his daughters.
Local Groups, Classes, and Language Exchanges
If you live somewhere with a large number of migrants, such as Paris or another big city, the local Mairie may provide low-cost French classes. Also most likely in bigger cities, the public library may run a conversation group for people to practise their French.
Meetup is another forum for finding conversation groups or else search for local Facebook groups. Joint French/English groups can be a great way to meet French people.
Conversation Exchange is a website where you sign up to converse with a like-minded person. You speak half the time in French and half in English. It’s excellent for practising and correcting each other’s mistakes in a non-pressured environment.
The online journal The Local has a Word of the Day that introduces you to some lesser-known colloquial expressions, but which are regularly used in everyday French. Often these are topical words and phrases that you will hear on the TV news, for example.
Studying French and French-Language Exams
Is it worth actually trying to gain a qualification in French? If you are working in France, a French qualification can be useful to demonstrate your competence to employers. The gold standard is the Diplôme d’Étude de la Langue Française (DELF) which is available at all the CEFR levels and lasts for life. However, it is demanding and you should prepare by enrolling in a language school to have a good chance of passing.
The Test de Connaissance du Français (TCF) and the Test d’Évaluation du Français (TEF) are a lot simpler and less demanding; however, they are only valid for two years.
The Alliance Française provides classes and exam centres for the DELF and TEF in France, the UK and worldwide.
Learn French with FrenchEntrée
Lead photo credit : Let Ideas Compete via Flickr.
By Pat Hallam
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