I want to learn French. I have a very basic knowledge but just wondered if anyone could recommend a good starting point such as books, apps or websites to pick it back up? 


2 Answers

Lily Bradic Profile
Lily Bradic , Lived in France for 3 years, answered

The French language sounds beautiful, and compared to oriental languages such as Japanese, isn't that difficult to learn for a native English-speaker. Both languages contain words derived from Latin, but although these words look similar on paper, they are usually pronounced completely differently!

What Is The Best Way To Learn French?

The most effective way to learn to speak French - or any other language - is to spend time among native speakers. It might not be possible for you to spend a long time on vacation in France, and moving there just to learn the language seems a bit extreme, but there might be a local group or class that you could join.

You could also search for French people giving one-on-one lessons in your area.

My Experience

When I moved to France, I couldn't speak French - despite reading those 'learn French' books and listening to interactive cassettes designed to teach you French (I think the Michel Thomas ones were what I used).

I thought this would be enough to get me through, but on my first day in a French school I found myself completely lost - not only did the French find it difficult to understand me, but I couldn't understand them. It seemed like their speech was speeded up, and the regional (Normandy) accent made it near impossible for me to understand anything.

After three months or so, during which time I was constantly in situations where I had no choice but to get by, I suddenly realised how much of the language I'd picked up. I could hold a conversation, understand the slang, and explain myself - at least on a basic level. After that, it just got easier and easier.

What I'd Suggest

  • Get a basic guide to learning French - whether that be a book, a website or an app - just to help you understand how the language is different from English. I'd personally go with something in audio format, as it'll teach you (at least roughly) how things are pronounced.
  • Watch French TV aimed at children. I was thirteen, and was watching cartoons aimed at really young kids. This actually helped a great deal. Watching the same episodes over and over until I knew what was going on was really useful, although getting used to the squeaky voices of cartoon characters was a bit of a problem at first!
  • Watch dubbed versions of shows you already watch in English. I remember watching House and CSI on French TV, and as I already knew what happened in House, it was easy to match the language to the visuals. It also helped me understand how French people speak - the speed, the intonations, and the accents. It's a bit weird hearing a different voice coming out of Hugh Laurie's mouth, though!
  • Watch DVDs in French with English subtitles. I've been back in England for over four years now, and had barely spoken any French during that time. I started watching Spiral, a French crime drama, on TV, and although I had to rely on subtitles for the first episode, by the third or fourth I didn't need to read them at all.
  • See if you can find a native French person to converse with - a relatively new thing is French 'classes' held on Skype, so you can see, speak and type to the other person. Some of these people will charge, whereas others might just want to improve their English!
I think what I'm getting at is that conversing in French is the best way to learn, but listening to the language is second-best.
I'm sure there are now apps available that show you the written words and play you a clip of how they sound when spoken (they certainly have apps like this for learning German, although when I tried one of those, it was more irritating than helpful!).
See what works for you - personally, I wouldn't bother with the books unless you want to know the very basics such as "bonjour" and "J'ai vingt ans".

Textbook French vs 'Real' French
The other thing to keep in mind is that French people don't actually speak like this - it's so formal, and I think quite a lot of these books are very outdated. For example, the textbooks will usually say something like "comment allez-vous?" for "How are you doing?" whereas, in France, they're far more likely to use the colloquial (and not grammatically correct) "Tu vas bien?" or "Ca va, toi?"
Hope that's of some use to you - obviously, everybody learns differently, and you might be more of a visual learner than me. Just try different things and see what works for you. Good luck!

4 People thanked the writer.
Yo Kass
Yo Kass commented
I like your suggestion of watching English-language TV shows in French... it definitely is way easier to relate to what's going on.

In French class at school, if we were well behaved during the week we'd be rewarded with a dubbed episode of "Saved by the Bell" on Friday!
Rob Barwell
Rob Barwell commented
This is really helpful. Thanks again Lily and Kass.
Yo Kass Profile
Yo Kass , Linguistics enthusiast with a mild interest in memes, answered

The website Memrise.com is a good option if you're looking to develop some basic language skills.

I'm currently using it to learn some German phrases.

How to learn French online

The concept behind Memrise.com is pretty simple:

You are presented with a series of memes and audio prompts, and they are repeated several times in an interactive way, in order to help you memorize what you're learning.

I find the combination of visual and phonetic learning to be a great way to absorb new vocabulary.

The site design is also quite slick, and all the reading material is created by a logged in community.

You can even repay your fellow learners by creating memes about something you're knowledgable about (it doesn't necessarily need to be a language, you can create memes about pretty much anything).

If none of that sounds like your cup of tea, then perhaps something like  DailyFrenchPod.com might be more your style.

The thing I like about Daily French Pod is that it's pretty versatile. Learning is based around podcasts that can be listened to anywhere, anytime - and the approach to learning is both practical annd direct.

The site describes it as a "communicative teaching method".

However, if you have any intentions of mastering the French language, I'm of the opinion that nothing beats interacting in real-time with native speakers.

Rather than looking for some sort of web-based language exchange (which is likely to include obstacles such as membership or subscription fees), I'd recommend simply harnessing the power of the internet.

The are plenty of French-speakers all over the web looking to improve their English skills - so why not find someone to connect with via social media, and make use of a video app to converse, chat, and exchange linguistic skills.

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