These days, life seems busier than ever.
It can be extremely difficult to find time for anything we elect to put on our wish list!
Unfortunately, things like learning a new language start slipping through the cracks only to join the pile of DIY projects we didn’t finish, recipes we didn’t cook and places we didn’t go this year.
But learning a new language such as French doesn’t have to be so difficult and it certainly doesn’t have to get pushed to the bottom of the list each year!
It’s no secret that tools have been made to help people learn French, and that many of these can be found online. All you need now are to choose the right ones—the ones that will help you learn best, on the cheap.
What we’ve lined up here are the essential learning tools that you should always have on hand, whether downloaded on your smartphone or sitting on your desk.
What Makes a Great French Learning Tool?
The best tools are ones that keep you learning French efficiently, cheaply and, most importantly, while having fun. You’re already on the right path here, because you’re not waiting for a teacher to hand their chosen tools to you. You’ve taken matters into your own hands, and choosing your own learning tools means that you’ll have the power to create your own curriculum and learn in ways that inspire you and speak to you personally.
You can also learn at your own pace, something that’s impossible to do when learning in a traditional classroom setting. The tools below will be there to assist you any time you have a spare moment to practice your French.
Additionally, the time you save by being able to learn anywhere and anytime is invaluable. This means you won’t have to put aside a whole hour for devoted study every single day. On those extremely busy days, you can squeeze your French practice in whenever it fits best.
Finally, if all that’s not enough to convince you, keep in mind that you can find all of the essential French learning tools online and for free. While there are certainly physical versions of the below tools that you can have on your desk, the internet has made them readily accessible and affordable to everyone.
Yet, with the millions of options out there, the online world can make finding these tools a bit overwhelming. So, I have narrowed them down to the five types of French tools that I think are the most effective and fun for learning French, and I have provided a variety of options for each.
Back Pocket French: Simple, Powerful French Learning Tools to Keep On Hand
Let’s face it—everything, including learning French, is more fun as a game!
We all learn best when we’re open to and excited by what we’re doing. Besides, when something is fun we typically continue to come back to it, and as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect. Learning through games has become a popular way to satisfy these ideal learning conditions.
In fact, FluentU incorporates gaming into our own learning program (check out the free trial so you can see if this approach is right for you).
It also goes an extra step and gamifies it with fun SRS flashcards, fill-in-the-black exercises, word scrambles and more—all of which involve fun, catchy, authentic video clips.
The following video from FluentU French’s YouTube channel fully shows this process within the FluentU language learning program. You can use the French subtitles to learn new vocabulary, especially if you regularly mine them for French words you don’t know and French grammar you may be unfamiliar with. When clicking on words in the subtitles, you get in-depth definitions and example sentences of the words you’re learning so that you gain context. Next, FluentU gamefies these words and makes them into SRS flashcard decks.
These features are all available on FluentU as seen in the video below.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the FluentU channel for more fun language learning videos!
For those of you who enjoy learning with this method, you’re in luck. There are plenty of websites offering free language games out there from which to choose. For example, the French Games website offers a small but enticing variety of learning games such as French hangman and a spelling activity that also incorporates practicing correct article usage.
Hello World is another good site, containing hundreds of games that allow you to customize your French level and choose from numerous vocabulary and grammatical categories. They even offer free flashcard print-outs and practice worksheets.
However, if you’re more interested in something a bit more serious and immersive, Steam has many great suggestions for adult games, though some may cost a small fee. If that’s not enough to pique your interest, Lyrics Training is a site which allows players to practice French through listening to popular music and filling in the lyrics.
You can choose from tons of music videos and several playing levels. There’s even a karaoke option for those who are daring enough to put their voices (and their French pronunciation) to the test!
2. Radio Stations
There’s no better way to expand your French vocabulary, perfect your grammar, polish your pronunciation and even brush up on some French slang all at the same time than to simply turn on the radio! Listening to a foreign language has long been recognized as one of the quickest ways to learn it. Luckily, there are many interesting French radio stations available for online listening.
ListenLive is an excellent website that lists all of the most popular French radio stations offering free streaming. Choose from talk radio stations and a wide variety of music genres, simultaneously expanding both your knowledge of the French language and French culture! Aside from live streaming, be sure to check out some of the limitless number of French podcasts, many of which are also free.
You may also want to take a look at FrenchPodcasts, a website which offers free podcasts in just about every category imaginable. What makes them particularly exceptional is that they also include an audio dictionary of words divided into categories of interest (art, music, cooking, etc.) to help you better understand the content.
Lastly, if you’re one of the millions of us addicted to TED Talks, take a minute to check out some of their French episodes. You’re sure to get a dose of interesting cultural information while expanding your French!
One of the oldest language tools, dictionaries are still essential no matter what language level you’re at.
Thankfully, online dictionaries tend to be more inclusive than that convenient pocket-sized one you picked up from the bookstore. WordReference is certainly among the best free online French dictionaries given its incredible volume of vocabulary, its translation accuracy and the added bonuses of a thesaurus and discussion forums.
Online dictionaries such as WordReference usually also offer an app which makes it easy to continue learning from all of your devices. Furthermore, as dictionaries are ever-changing to best reflect the world around us, it’s necessary to utilize the most recent versions. Using an online dictionary typically ensures that it’s frequently updated, unlike hard copies which must be recycled and upgraded often.
Aside from making sure it’s up-to-date, one of the easiest ways to check the reliability of a dictionary is to use more than one and compare the results. Apart from WordReference, I suggest Collins, a well-known and reputable dictionary also available online for free.
4. Spell Checkers
A tool that often seems to be overlooked when learning a foreign language is a good spell checker. Just think about how often your built-in English spell checkers save you from getting a bad grade on a paper, sounding unprofessional in a work email or accidentally texting something you didn’t mean.
Spelling a word incorrectly can have a profound effect on how our writing (and as an extension, us) are perceived, as well as on the meaning of our content. For example, dessus (on top of) and dessous (underneath) are complete opposites. With words like these, it’s no wonder people are intimidated when they begin writing in French.
Luckily, a good spell checker is also capable of catching these types of word misuse. Additionally, using a spell checker can help rid you of some of your more frequent mistakes and ensure that you’re practicing French correctly.
While there are many spell checkers out there, one of my favorites is Language Tool because it allows you to install the program on Google Chrome, thus streamlining the process—no more having to copy and paste into a website. Furthermore, Language Tool checks for grammar mistakes. You can think of it as a French version of the popular Grammarly.
However, if you prefer using a site rather than an extension, I recommend something simple like JSpell or BonPatron which checks your language right on the site.
5. Language Exchanges
Thanks to technology, you can now practice conversation and make friends with native French speakers no matter where you live! Websites such as WeSpeke and Conversation Exchange offer free platforms on which to meet native French speakers.
Language exchange sites typically require you to create a profile which lists your language level, your interests, why you want to learn French, etc. Then, you’re free to browse through other profiles and look for people with whom you’re compatible.
Choose from native speakers with various backgrounds, language skills, communication preferences, etc. The aim of these sites is usually just to facilitate the initial introduction, so after meeting people you’re certainly free to continue to speak with them in whichever way is most comfortable for you—WhatsApp messaging, phone calls, video chatting, emailing, letter writing, etc. Of course, if you prefer simply communicating through the website platform, that’s usually supported as well.
Participating in a language exchange is one of the surest ways to improve your French—what better way to learn a language than from a native speaker! Beyond this, you’ll diversify and expand your friend circle to include people from all over the world. What could be more rewarding than that?
Hopefully, you’ll try out these tools for yourself and see just how easy, fun and affordable learning French can be! With online aids such as these available with the click of a button, there really is no excuse for those wanting to learn.
So, check out the tools above and enjoy learning about the beautiful language and culture of France like you’ve always wanted to!
Camille Turner is an experienced freelance writer and ESL teacher.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.