Back in my high school days, I felt confident walking into the French classroom for a big test.
I knocked the writing section out of the park.
Reading comprehension? 100 percent.
Listening? No problem!
But then came the speaking portion.
Suddenly, I wasn’t so confident anymore.
I wasn’t bad at speaking French. But compared to all the other kinds of tests, I found oral assessments to be the most difficult. They always made me break out in a cold sweat.
Over time, though, I realized that this happens to most language learners. I was so relieved to find out I wasn’t a freak!
It’s pretty annoying that speaking is usually the most difficult part of learning a new language, but also the most essential component of fluency!
We’ve got some great options below that won’t make you feel like you’re back in high school French class.
The best part? They won’t break the bank, either!
What Are the Different Types of French Conversation Lessons?
- Language Exchange: When you participate in a French language exchange, you meet with a French speaker who also wants to learn English. You take turns speaking in each other’s language. For example, you might converse in English for 30 minutes, then in French for 30 minutes.
Language exchanges are great for learners on a budget. These lessons usually won’t cost you a dime, because both participants have a shared goal of gaining knowledge rather than money.
- Tutoring: In a tutoring session, an instructor teaches you French. You don’t have to speak English with them at all.
The downside of tutoring versus language exchange sessions is that hiring a private teacher costs money. So you should decide what’s more valuable to you—money or time? If you want to save money, go with a language exchange partner. If you want to save time by targeting your own language needs and skipping the English chat, spend a little cash to hire a tutor.
- Video Lessons: Videos are great tools for hearing French accents and seeing Francophones engage in everyday activities. They’re also ideal for visual learners. You might remember the vocabulary and accents more easily if you can see people’s mouths moving and associate their words with images.
- Audio Lessons: Hearing recordings gives you the chance to hear people speak in native accents at natural speeds. Listening is often the first step to learning to converse well.
While videos are great for visual learners, audio exercises are better for auditory learners. If you feel that watching a video might be too distracting for you and you just want to listen to natural French conversations, go with audio lessons.
No matter what type of learner you are, it’s always smart to supplement your conversation lessons with authentic French learning material, for well-rounded and natural-sounding French.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.
You'll receive video recommendations that suit your interests and current level of progress.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Talk Is Cheap: 6 Sites for Affordable or Free French Conversation Lessons
When I hear the word “free,” I’m there! Mondly offers free French lessons to students who want to improve their speaking and conversation skills.
Mondly’s teaching philosophy is that learning French is more about perseverance than anything else. You shouldn’t necessarily study for hours at a time, because you’ll most likely get burned out. All you need is five minutes per day, every day. Mondly vows to make a difference with those five minutes.
This program is for learners of all levels. Yes, just five minutes can benefit even absolute beginners!
Mondly’s main focus is teaching you French that’s useful in day-to-day life. The site’s most unique asset is its language partner robot. This chatbot actually understands you when you talk! It asks follow-up questions and carries on a conversation with you.
When the chatbot speaks, you hear its voice and see the text in front of you. These features are helpful for both auditory and visual learners!
Next, you hold down the microphone button and reply. If you aren’t sure how to respond, a menu of possible phrases appears on your screen. This list can help you learn new popular French phrases to integrate in your real-life conversations.
For example, if the chatbot says, Bonjour! Comment allez-vous? (Hello! How are you?), your screen might show you these options:
Just choose the answer that fits your mood, and you’ve already begun having a real conversation in French!
Thanks to this chatbot, you can enjoy all the benefits of having a language partner without fear of judgment.
The French Conversation Courses Android app provides numerous videos and listening exercises. For free!
This app is great for beginner and intermediate students. Yes, it’s limited to videos and listening exercises. However, for students who aren’t yet advanced, listening to the French accent is one of the most important aspects of learning to speak well. These videos series are fantastic sources for you to hear the French accent at its natural speed.
French Conversation Courses is comprehensive and easy to use. You might choose the “French Listening” video series. Or maybe “Learn French Holidays” sparks your interest.
The course materials are updated daily, so you always have new ways to learn French! Imagine having free material constantly sent to your phone.
Now you can learn how to converse in French while sitting on the bus, on an airplane… or maybe even in that boring history class with some earbuds slipped in stealthily under your hair.
…I mean, what? No, I’d never do that!
Youpi (yay), another free program! Except this time, you get to talk to actual humans. How exciting is that?
WeSpeke’s aim is to set people up with native-speaking language exchange partners. It’s a social network for students who want to learn foreign languages. You’re paired up with a native French speaker who studies English. The program is free because you both get something out of your conversations.
If you just want to exchange text or voice messages with your partner, that’s fine. However, I recommend using WeSpeke’s video chat system so you can see your partner during the conversation.
Looking at a native’s mouth movements when they speak can help you follow what they’re saying, especially if you’re a beginner. It may also improve your pronunciation because you can see how to position your lips and tongue to create the more challenging sounds, like the French “u.”
WeSpeke also provides you with a digital notebook to easily track new vocabulary and techniques you learn through your conversation exchange.
Gumtree is a classifieds website that makes it easy to find a French conversation partner. Unlike the three previous resources on this list, it isn’t free. But hear me out! Keep reading to see why spending a little money could be worth it.
Many of the people advertising their French tutoring skills on Gumree are qualified language teachers and/or tutors. Not everyone who posts their services on Gumtree asks for money, but since these tutors are pros, the majority do want a little compensation. Most tutors ask for at least $14 per hour.
Depending on where you live, you might have trouble finding an in-person French tutor or language exchange partner. But thanks to Gumtree, you can easily find a qualified French tutor and talk to them via Skype! Ain’t the internet grand?
Shelling out a little cash is probably worth it, because these folks have the tools and skills to provide more than just conversation practice—they can help you overcome speaking obstacles, troubleshoot your mistakes and suggest techniques to improve quickly.
Verbalplanet has a similar setup to that of Gumtree. You find a tutor on Verbalplanet’s site and they teach you rather than participate in a language exchange.
The main difference between Verbalplanet and Gumtree is that Verbalplanet is much more organized. There are more regulations on this site.
For example, on Gumtree, certain tutors give free or discounted trial lessons to make themselves stand out in your search. Verbalplanet, on the other hand, requires every teacher to provide trial lessons either at no cost or 50 percent off.
On Gumtree, the length of your class depends on your individual agreement with the teacher. All Verbalplanet courses are 45 minutes. If you know 45 minutes is the amount of time you want each session to last, using Verbalplanet could save you time searching for the right tutor. If you need more or less time in your classes, you might want to check out Gumtree instead.
italki is a popular online video tutoring and conversation program. My favorite thing about italki is that the site makes it as easy as possible for you to find your ideal tutor. The website’s filters are super helpful!
For example, you can choose the country you want your tutor to be from. This filter is great if you know you want to develop a French accent versus, say, the Quebecois or Moroccan accent.
This site also allows you to give your price range per hour so you don’t spend forever trying to find someone whose services fit your budget.
Best of all, you choose between two different types of teachers. There are professional teachers with teaching experience and certification to teach French to second-language learners. Or you may choose a community teacher, someone who doesn’t have any certification but is passionate about teaching their native language.
Professional teachers’ classes are probably higher quality. Community teachers’ courses, however, are cheaper. And you can read reviews, so you won’t get sucked into a bad community teacher’s class!
Many italki tutors offer discounted 30-minute trials, so you can see if you’re a good fit.
Hopefully, these resources will make you a little less nervous for your next big French exam or conversation with a native French speaker. There’s no need to break a sweat. Now you can stay cool, calm and collected!
Laura Grace Tarpley is a writer based in Athens, Georgia. She has spent the past four years living in and exploring France, New Zealand and China. She runs the blog Let’s Go Tarpley!, where she writes city guides and budget travel tips.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.