I’ve lived in Paris on and off for five years and I’m still learning French. But it’s getting easier and easier — partly because I’m better at it, and partly because there are so many ways, both new and old, to study, whether you’re in Paris or not. Below, my favorite six tools to learn French.
Exactly half are free, and this doesn’t even include the huge wealth of French media available on YouTube, Pinterest, everywhere. (Looking for authentic French recipes? Pinterest has a million of them.)
If you, too, want to learn French, get going. If you’re starting from scratch, I’d recommend Duolingo or Verbling, depending on your budget. And if you’re looking to maintain your skills, I’d check out Yabla, RFI, and my boo, Yvan Amar.
Of course, French movies and TV shows, now easily available on Netflix/iTunes/your streaming service of choice. What a world, eh?
Verbling is my absolute favorite — there’s no easier way to arrange long-distance language learning, especially if you’re traveling around a lot. In the past, I’ve used Craigslist to find instructors in Paris, and then met either in person or by Skype — but weird things always came up, like one instructor who always asked me to write about “things you find attractive in men.” Eh, I guess it could happen on Verbling as well, but let’s hope not. French lessons cost around $20 an hour, with higher rates for more exotic languages. I’ve just started using it, but so far I’m delighted. Varies by instructor
RFI: Le journal en français facile
I’ve listened to RFI (it’s sort of like NPR) and its “easy French” news reports for over a decade. It’s free, and daily, and the product of a super-legit newsgathering organization, with correspondents all over the world. It’s not super easy, but they usually provide a transcript. Free
I am obsessed with Yabla. It’s another web-based language learning program with a variety of ways to test your comprehension — I use it to transcribe French-language videos, including straight-up instruction, music videos (including totally contemporary acts like Christine and the Queens), and produced-for-Yabla tours of France. Yabla has improved by oral comprehension better and faster than anything else I’ve ever used. Note, the videos designated for “beginners” — I’m not convinced they’re quite beginner level, but see how it goes. $9.95 a month
Everyone knows Duolingo. It works and it’s free, and it can get you to a good starting point. I’d use it to get to the point where you can switch over (and up) to Yabla. Free
Les mots de l’actualité with Yvan Amar
I’m also obsessed with radio broadcaster Yvan Amar (please feel free to read about my experience meeting him, which he probably did not enjoy as much as I did.) This is a series of three-minute reports he writes on words central to the news of the day. It’s usually a little bit harder than RFI’s news reports. Free
News in Slow French
It’s easier than RFI’s, though also more expensive, which is kind of a drag. The emphasis is really on sooouuunnnnddddddding outtttt theeeee woooorrrrrddddds, if you get my drift, and which is useful — I just wish for less than about $7 a month, for the barebones package.
Kids books in French
You haven’t mastered French unless you’ve reread all the Harry Potter books in the language — it’s basically a rite of passage, especially among study-abroaders. Francophone books are easier to find than it might look — Amazon has tons, with the current bestseller of course Harry Potter et l’école des sorciers. (No surprises there.) Audible also has a French-language selection. And if you’re in New York, be sure to stop by Albertine, the absolutely divine French bookstore on Fifth Avenue.