Whether you don't speak a lick of french, haven't gotten that pesky "r" sound down yet or are chatting up a storm, here are 5 resources sure to bump you up to the next level of french in no time. Being a french speaker for the last 22 years, I leverage these resources regularly whenever possible. Also, don't forget, most of these tools are effective using small bits of time on a consistent basis. Enjoy!
This is a FREE tool accessible at duolingo.com or on your mobile device, available for iPad, iPhone and Android. The learning approach of this software is similar to a pricey competitor in that it uses images to teach you vocabulary, then leads you into translating and speaking.
- Pretty & Easy - Slick, intuitive, clean interface easily worthy of a decent price tag. I love that it's free!
- Something for Everyone - This app works for all levels of french. It starts very basic, which more advanced speakers can test out of. In fact, you can test out of whole levels at a time (up to a certain level), or detailed subjects at a time. Though I tested out of every level possible and am close to finishing testing out of all advanced subjects, I found it to be a great review. And, dang it if I didn't make plenty of little mistakes that didn't pass muster in duolingo.
- Short and Sweet - The lessons are split up into small, easy-to-swallow, bite-sized pieces. I can whip out the app for a few minutes while I wait for a friend, stand in line or drift off to sleep and make small bits of progress using my down time. This is what is called "snacking". It's effective and really helps eliminate the information overload factor (common in language learning).
- Social Gamification - For the marketing geeks out there, this is a great element to have in a learning tool. It means that you can add friends to your profile and as you "play" you earn points. You can see your friends' points and badges in each language they are learning. (That's right, there are more languages available, folks. I know, don't faint. Let's take it one at a time.) I do think this aspect is still underdeveloped and has a lot of potential (see below).
- Multiple Languages Available - This software is available for english speakers learning french, spanish, german, portuguese, or italian. It is also available for french, portuguese, spanish or italian speakers learning english. I have friends from around the world who I recommend this resource to when they want to improve their english. (Cue "We are the World" theme song.)
Room for Improvement:
- Not Great for Teaching Pronunciation - This app does pronounce words and does ask you to pronounce words. But, as illustrated to me when learning portuguese from level zero, once I opened my mouth and tried to show what I had learned to fluent speakers, it was all wrong. You will need to supplement your training with other tools in order to learn the proper pronunciation of sounds.
- Social and Gamification Needs More - The social aspect of connecting with friends and the point-earning system to gamify the learning process are very basic. There is a friend leader board; however, there is no way to communicate with friends, comment on their progress, or use points in a fun way. Other suggestions would be to connect native speakers to learners in order to enhance the learning experience and incorporating a Skype functionality to encourage practicing with others. (This is where I supplement with ConversationExchange.com mentioned below. Duolingo could do this in a much sexier way if you ask me.) One note would be that if Duolingo added any of these features, they would need to think about parental controls.
This is a website that matches native speakers to language learners all over the world. It is a very basic interface which allows you to create a profile and post a bit about what languages you speak fluently and which languages you wish to learn. You then search through profiles and can contact who you wish (no personal info or email address is displayed). From there you connect on Skype or other means to practice together. It is made clear on the site that this is not a dating site and certain dating site behavior is prohibited, which keeps it real.
- Lots of Profiles to Choose From - The site is well attended and there are many profiles to choose from.
- Shows Level of Proficiency - Profiles show a small bar graph of the proficiency level of each language that person speaks. This helps in trying to decide who to practice with.
- Security - I can't vouch for the security of any personal information you put on the site but I was happy with the way profiles are represented. Contact information is forbidden and only a secure email address assigned by the site can be used by each person. Like CraigsList.org, the secure email gets delivered to the recipient's personal email address. They can choose to reply via the website to keep their email hidden, or they can then provide contact information (such as Skype pseudonym). So, it is not necessary to ever give personal information in order to practice your language skills. You can also specify whether you would like to practice in person, pen pal or video. I am very conscious of giving any info to people I don't know online so I was satisfied with the way this is handled.
Room for Improvement:
- Extremely Basic Functionality - This website basically gets the job done. It is a very rudimentary, non-sexy interface that can be cumbersome. Scrolling through profiles sorted by last login date takes quite a while and there are few filter options. Luckily, you can mark the profiles you like which puts a check mark on them. Also, you can view all the messages you have sent and received from that person, which helps. On a similar note, it would be very helpful to be able to see who is currently online and include a button to launch the programs you have specified you like to use, such as Skype. In other words, ConversationExchange.com is a resource to find people but not to actually chat or connect with them, other than the secure email messages. There are a hundred points that would make this site better, which we won't go into. But, like I said, it gets the job done.
This website is actually best accompanied with its Podcast called Français Authentique. In fact, the podcast alone is a great start. I highly recommend following the Facebook page of the same name, as well as the YouTube channel. Johan is a french native 30-something who provides a wealth of learning resources. Johan teaches in french so all his lessons do require a certain comprehension level to get the full benefit. However, I would recommend any french learner to listen to the podcasts and watch the videos. Exposure to the language is priority #1 when it comes to improving our skills!
- Wealth of Content - Since Johan has been Podcasting for several years, there is a large repertoire of episodes. Most episodes are dedicated to explaining the meaning of phrases that natives use regularly, but that may not be apparent to the language learner, such as, Avoir du pain sur la planche.
- Worthwhile Products - Johan has created his own french learning system in addition to his Podcasts. There are products available on his website, including materials with audio. I have not purchased these products, as my comprehension level is higher than the audience that these products are targeted for. But, there are many positive comments about them. Also, Johan's Facebook audience is in the tens of thousands, which shows that his teaching style appeals to learners all around the globe.
- Several Information Streams - On my morning drive, I typically listen to a Podcast episode. These are typically under 20 minutes so they are easy to fit into your day. When I check Facebook I see the updates and read interesting comments. Online, I link to the extra videos which show Johan explaining things like his morning routine, location details of his travels (typically on-location), and useful tips. These videos are totally amateur but it is refreshing to catch an authentic glimpse of the world from a bona-fide french person's life.
- Skilled Teacher - Though Johan is a Project Manager by trade, he is a gifted teacher. He speaks very clearly and his approach really does help a learner to understand. He has a pleasant demeanor which kind of gives you the feeling that he's your friend. Just think of him as the french friend who doesn't know you exist. :)
Room for Improvement:
- Website has Potential - I'm not going to knock this much because I think Johan has put a lot of thought and effort into it. The content is good and that is the what matters most. I think the products page could be streamlined so that the products are easily compared and there isn't so much text and scrolling. But, it does the trick!
This is an organization represented in most large cities which offers language classes and cultural events. Please search Google for the organization in the city near you.
- Local Exposure - This is a good way to get involved with the french community in your local city (or a bigger city near you). This can be a good way to link up with other groups such as conversation groups that will further your learning experience. Do what you can to connect in your own community. Exchanging lunch dates and play dates with other families and parents is very helpful.
Room for Improvement:
- Scarcity - You may not find this organization in your area. Also, the quality of experience may vary from city to city.
There are countless podcasts, radio stations, blogs, books, movies and videos available via the web. You'll eventually find your favorites. But in the meantime, borrow from some of mine:
Netflix: Look in the foreign movies and go crazy watching french films. With subtitles you learn lots of new phrases quickly. (Be aware, the rating system is not the same and often you won't find a rating.)
Podcasts: My playlist includes Euronews Radio Français, Le Rendez-Vous Tech, and Français Authentique. The key is to just find subjects you are interested in and listen, listen, listen.
If you find these resources helpful, please share this article and check out my other articles. Wishing you best of luck in your french language learning and most of all, experiences and relationships to last a lifetime. Ciao ciao!