Starting French lessons as a beginner can be a lot like dishing out that first slice of pie.
You want it to be picture-perfect.
You slice precisely. You carefully lift your pâtisserie (baking) masterpiece from the pie dish.
…and then, you grimace in defeat at your first slice of tarte au citron meringuée (lemon meringue pie).
The crust has crumbled. Half of the lemon curd and meringue have fallen back into the pie plate.
Quel cauchemar! (What a nightmare!)
When you’re just starting to study French, you might feel anxious. Excited. Worried about making a fool of yourself in front of native speakers. And dozens of other emotions.
There are times when you’ll feel like things are falling apart. You’ll forget words or use them in the wrong order.
But when you take time to savor the experience—just like when you taste that luscious, sloppy pie—you’ll experience the utter deliciousness of learning French.
In this blog post, I’m going to show you what to look for in your French learning materials as well as the best resources to start getting fluent.
So, grab your pie server and your fork. Let’s get started on our French feast!
Why Learn French?
You might’ve heard that learning French isn’t practical. Well, poppycock!
There are many, many reasons to study French. French is…
- Une langue mondiale (a global language). Spoken primarily in Europe, Africa and North America—with a presence on two other continents—the French language is your ticket to people and cultures all across the globe. After all, French is an official language of 29 countries and one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
- Une langue croissante (a growing language). The worldwide prominence of French is growing, particularly with the rise of business and industry in Africa—where the French language is already spread across half the continent. In three of the continent’s fastest-growing economies—Senegal, Ivory Coast and Djibouti—French is an official language. In oil-rich Ghana, the government has recently been considering adopting French as one of its official languages. If you’re interested in entrepreneurship—or you just want to make your résumé more appealing to an international corporation—knowing French could give you a career advantage.
- Une langue historique et culturelle (a historical and cultural language). Every language holds the key to understanding the people who speak it. When you learn French, you get the opportunity to study the writings of great French thinkers in their own words. And by exploring francophone literature beyond the borders of mainland France, you can open yourself up to the fascinating flavors of French found all around the world.
What to Look for in French Lessons for Beginners
Maybe French is the first language you’ve ever studied formally. If so, you might not be sure what to expect.
After all, most of us don’t remember learning our first words in our native language.
When you’re choosing your first French lessons, you’ll want to make sure that you’re laying a good foundation for yourself in the language.
Beginner French Vocabulary and Conversations
French lessons for beginners need to include words for some universal concepts.
Simple Grammar and Basic Sentence Structure
Don’t forget the nitty-gritty of every language—the grammar and syntax.
Grammar covers a whole range of topics, like how to conjugate verbs or make adjectives agree with the nouns they modify. Syntax involves word order and sentence structure. Together, grammar and syntax help you use all those shiny new vocabulary words in an understandable way.
Here are some of the grammatical tools you’ll need:
Alphabet Sounds and Pronunciation
Beginner French lessons should teach you the sounds of the alphabet. Knowing the French alphabet helps you understand what you’re hearing and how it relates to the written language. Grasping the proper pronunciation of the letters makes your spoken French more understandable.
Speaking French well also depends on what you don’t say: Silent letters in French have their own set of rules!
French Lessons for Beginners: 5 Fantastic Ways to Start Studying French
French lessons for beginners can be found in many different forms.
Which types of lessons will you choose?
You can tailor your French learning program to your needs and preferences. Mix and match any of the following resources to enjoy a more satisfying slice of the French language pie.
Learning French with Apps
Apps are convenient and portable. They let you access your French lessons from anywhere you have a mobile device and an internet connection.
Look for apps that have structured lessons, so you can be sure you’re building a good foundation for yourself in French. While the gamification inherent to language learning apps can be a lot of fun and help you to remember vocab and other essentials, it’s important to build your skills in a methodical way.
A few of the more solid, lesson-based French-learning apps for beginners are:
- Babbel: Exercises, dialogues and pronunciation practice, with pop-up grammar help.
- FluentU: Takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news clips and inspiring talks—and turns them into vocabulary and grammar lessons.
- Duolingo: Game-like exercises with on-demand, detailed grammar tips for each unit.
- Busuu: Structured lessons and interactive exercises with feedback from native speakers.
- Lingvist: Fill-in-the-blank sentences to teach new vocabulary; includes extensive grammar tips, plus challenges in speaking, listening, reading and grammar.
There are many more apps available, and new ones are being released all the time.
Take advantage of free apps and free trials to figure out which apps work best for your personal learning style.
Remember to use multimedia apps like FluentU as a way to practice and reinforce what’s in your lessons. The FluentU app takes real-world videos and adapts them to facilitate learning. It remembers your progress and customizes your program with suggestions to grow your French knowledge.
With lots of visual clues—everything from facial expressions to the activities portrayed—the videos help you put words into context as you see them acted out on screen. Best of all, you’ll hear French as it’s really spoken.
It also includes many interactive activities like quizzes to help you check your learning. Touch any unfamiliar word within a video to see its meaning and get examples of its use in context.
Online Courses and MOOCs
Classroom-style online courses are patterned after traditional courses with a fixed curriculum, lesson plans and an instructor. Many of these are MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which are more formally structured than most language-learning apps.
MOOCs usually impose deadlines for turning in homework assignments. Your progress is rated through quizzes, tests and exams.
There are many online courses available with French lessons for beginners, and you can select from non-credit or for-credit options.
Ed2Go, which works with local community colleges and other higher learning institutions, can help you parler français (to speak French) with an online Beginning Conversational French course. There are both instructor-lead and self-paced options.
Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI) can get you on the road to learning French in an interactive, self-paced environment…for juste une petite somme (just a small fee).
Brigham Young University’s Independent Study Program lets you start your French studies at either a high school or university level, depending on your preference. Both options will earn you credit if you complete them successfully—a half-credit for each high-school level course and up to four credits for each of the college-level offerings.
Informal Online Lessons and Blogs
Websites like The French Experiment, Je French and Learn French with Pascal use a combination of audio, video, written lessons, interactive exercises and games to teach you basic French. Most of the lessons are organized by categories.
These French lessons for beginners are much more casual than online courses and humor is often used as a teaching tool.
If you find the standard classroom curriculum dry or stuffy, you might prefer these informal lessons.
Audio Lessons and Programs
If the only time you can squeeze in your French lessons is while you’re exercising, commuting to work or doing the dishes, then hands-free audio lessons would be a particularly good choice.
There are numerous French audio courses for beginners that you can stream on your phone, tablet or laptop. Although the written component of learning French is usually only covered in booklet form—if at all—these fundamental French lessons are especially great if you want to emphasize pronunciation and audio comprehension.
You can find some of these lessons for free on sites like Spotify. Spotify has Penton Overseas’ “Learn French in Your Car” series available for streaming. You can also try:
Don’t forget to supplement your French lessons with simple, short audiobooks from Spotify, including classic children’s tales like “Cendrillon” (Cinderella), “Blanche-Neige” (Snow White), and “Le Chat botté” (Puss in Boots).
Textbooks and Old-school Learning
Textbooks serve up French lessons with fewer distractions for beginners.
When you’re on your phone or your tablet, you’re likely to get hit with notifications for incoming texts, emails or social media messages. An old-fashioned textbook doesn’t come equipped with 4G, 5G or WiFi.
If you’re immersed in a textbook, you’ll be less tempted to text, web-surf or chit-chat on Snapchat. (Just make sure your portable (mobile device) is set aside during your study time!)
Beginner French lessons from textbooks have a solid structure with a good mix of grammar and vocabulary. They usually include dialogues, written exercises, vocabulary lists and detailed grammar explanations. In addition, they often have appendices with helpful information, such as glossaries, verb conjugations and lists of numbers.
And don’t forget the language learning goldmine that’s your local library. Both on the shelves and online, you’re likely to find French textbooks—as well as other resources like French language videos and audiobooks.
If you decide to use a physical textbook, you might as well go full-on retro and handwrite your notes and exercises.
Well, studies show that writing things out longhand has memory advantages, as opposed to just typing. People who jot down their notes by hand tend to perform better on tests when asked to recall the material they’re studying!
Not sure where to start? Check out this guide to textbooks for French learners of all levels, which will help you begin your French learning journey…and be there for you as your French mastery grows.
Whether you serve them with whipped cream or meringue, these delectable French lessons for beginners will make you realize that learning French c’est du gâteau (is a piece of cake)!
Michelle Baumgartner is a language nerd who has formally studied seven languages and informally dabbled in at least three others. In addition to geeking out over slender vowels, interrogative particles and phonemes, Michelle is a freelance content writer and education blogger. Find out more at stellawriting.com.
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