The day has come.
It’s time to even the playing field.
Why should native speakers or advanced learners have all the fun?
No longer will entertaining, genius French creations only be enjoyed by the fluent.
Here’s why: Beginners can learn French with full-length French movies too!
Now that’s reason to celebrate.
So while you might have previously thought that French movies were too hard for you, let me assure you that there are tons of French films you can watch and understand with ease.
Despite their reputation in the film world, French filmmakers aren’t all about philosophy and doomed relationships. That’s great news for us, because there are so many benefits of using movies for language learning.
Why Should Beginners Learn French with Movies?
Committing yourself to a strict diet of grammar lessons and dictation might seem like the quickest way to get to grips with French, but when it comes to language, engagement is key. You will learn more when you enjoy the enjoyment of it and So while watching movies may feel like slacking, if you’re doing it in French, it’s simply another learning process.
Improve your pronunciation
Learning from books and conversing out loud is a great way to get to grips with sentence structure and vocabulary, but should you want to really nail your pronunciation, you need to take a tip from the masters themselves.
Non-French speakers will undoubtedly agree that perfecting your Gallic “R” can seem entirely impossible. Though while the sound certainly is harder for non-natives to master, listening to the French performing the task is a great way to learn.
Mimicking through sound is one of the first ways that we learned how to talk as children, and although a little more comprehension is needed to learn as an adult, we still rely on a certain amount of parroting in speech. Sometimes the difference between two words is a slightly altered vowel sound, and if you’re getting it wrong, it can be completely embarrassing. Take it from someone who has learned the hard way.
Learn the language of the locals
More often than not, the language that we learn in beginner textbooks is a formalized version of the real thing. Since conversational registers alter depending on the situation, watching films is a great and easy way to understand when to use different terms of phrase.
Language learning is best done in the heart of the country where it’s spoken, so if you don’t have a private jet to hand, watching films can be the next best thing.
All of the cinematic giants were French
Where cinema fares, it’s safe to say that the French know what they are doing. Not only can French cinema help you to improve your phrases and conversation, but it can also introduce you to another world of intrigue and drama. Prepare to get hooked.
There’s a film out there for every level
While we’re focusing on films suitable for beginners in this post, there are more than enough French movies in existence of varying level. This means that as you progress on your French language journey, you’ll never run out of great films to watch.
It’s a great achievement
Watching a film all the way through in a foreign language is a really amazing achievement at any level. Even if you haven’t understood everything (which you won’t—this is completely normal), it’s still a huge language success.
Useful Tips for Beginners Watching Movies in French
Before you embark on your French cinematic odyssey, here are a few pointers to make your life and viewing a little more enjoyable.
- Pick films you already know well in English. If you’re familiar with a film’s story or know an animated film really well in your native language, choose those first. Translating a story with which you’re already familiar will give you a leg up before you even begin.
- Subtitles are your friend. Set the subtitles to French while you watch the film. Getting accustomed to the French accent can be challenging at first, so the subtitles will greatly aid your comprehension. Think of it as a fun way to improve your listening and reading skills simultaneously.
- Rewind, rewind, rewind. If you need to go back and take things in again, go for it! While you might not have the same option in real life, it’s good to take advantage of this feature when watching films.
- Take notes as you watch. If there are any new words that you hear a lot, or that are necessary to understand the plot, try and jot them down as you go. Google is great at deciphering rough spellings in foreign language, so don’t worry about getting it wrong—though here’s another reason why French subtitles rock.
- Make it your routine. Watching a film in French is a really wonderful accomplishment, but if you really want to get better, you’ve got to do it regularly. Set aside one day every week when you’ll watch a movie in French. It can replace an evening in which you would normally watch something in your native language; you won’t notice a difference! Think of it as d’une pierre, deux coups (killing two birds with one stone)!
All right, you’re ready to go—but what to watch? To get you started (for 10 weeks at least), here are 10 films that are great for beginners.
10 Great Films for Beginners to Watch in French
Christophe Barratier’s films about a group of unruly schoolboys gone good is held with fond and proud esteem in its native country. Focusing on the influence of new teacher Clément Mathieu, the film tells the story of how the teacher refocuses the troubled boys by starting a choir in his spare time. Mathieu develops a special relationship with particularly talented Pierre, a boy that the film focuses on.
The film is uplifting and poignant, and a particularly nice introduction to the world of French cinema in general. As it’s set in a boy’s school, the language is primarily simplistic and conversational. While there are moments that are more complex, they’re easy to follow within the framework of the narrative. With a simple plot line and a truly heartwarming end note, “Les Choristes” will leave you feeling uplifted and accomplished!
French filmmaker and figure Jacques Tati is like France’s answer to Mister Bean. Or rather, Mister Bean is the UK’s version of Tati, for it was his bumbling Monsieur Hulot who came first. Tati’s “Jour de fête” is set in a small French village and takes place during the run up and event of a yearly town fête (festival). Tati plays the village postman who gets into more than his fair share of tumbles.
The film uses a lot of physical comedy, which makes for clear and simple language. The combination of physical action and exclamative speech make the plot very easy to follow. If you want a film with clear, easy dialogue, “Jour de fête” is a good place to start.
3. “Le Jouet”
Francis Veber’s films are a real treat, and although some of the speech is a little on the fast side at times, it’s typically made up of dialogue relevant to the scene. This film tells the story of a young boy on a mission to set his money-grabbing father right, hiring a journalist as his personal “toy” to expose his father’s wrong deeds.
The film was remade in English under the name of “The Toy,” so if you’ve seen that movie, definitely check this one out. Take the film slowly; while it might seem a little more challenging at first, it’s easy to grasp what’s going on once you get into the swing of things.
Adapted from the classic Marcel Pagnol novel, “La gloire de mon père” is a classic French tale and a great way into rural French history. The film follows the fate of a family and village in the heart of a farming community during the early 20th century. Largely a family drama, the movie is a great example of more traditional conversation, presented in an easy-to-digest manner.
Many of Pagnol’s other novels have also been made into films, so if you enjoy “La gloire de mon père,” it might be worth checking out “Le château de ma mère,” “Jean de Florette” and “Manon des Sources.”
Paul Grimault’s 1980 animation classic is a fairytale that can also double as a great resource for French learners. Set in the fictional kingdom of Takicardia, the film follows the iron reign of the heartless king who is hated by all. Despite being cross-eyed, the king manages to hit the film’s “oiseau” (bird) in a fluke shot, who he then traps and cages in his castle. Soon, paintings start coming to life and strange creatures make themselves known.
Like many other animations, the film balances dialogue and physical comedy very well, making it perfect for beginners to follow. The events on screen are a little strange, but with the help of the dialogue, it’s not hard to get your bearings.
If you want to find out what French family life is like, then you might want to take a look at Cédric Klapisch’s “Un air de famille,” which takes place over the course of one night. As the night wears on, family tensions are revealed one by one, and pretty soon the facade of normalcy has all but crumbled.
Centered around family drama and domestic tensions, the dialogue in the film is very easy to follow as long as you’re prepared to listen to an argument or two. To get a behind-the-scenes look at conversational habits of a typical French family, then “Un air de famille” is the movie for you.
While not strictly a French film, Hiyao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” enjoyed a French language release with widespread acclaim. Telling the story of aero engineer Jiro Horikoshi, the film plays out the airplane designer’s life and influence on Japanese fighter planes.
As with all Miyazaki films, the narrative is engaging from the start, and the dialogue is very easy to follow throughout. The characters in the film quote the same piece of French poetry throughout, and it’s a fun way to get a peek at the world of creative French without becoming confused.
As well a being a down to earth and comprehensible French film, “Être et avoir” is a beautiful portrait of the relationship between a school teacher and his students. Taking place in a tiny rural French village, the film follows teacher Georges Lopez and his students over the course of one year. “Être et avoir” is slow and gentle, but as the time passes, the film reveals subtle insight into the students’ relationships with their teacher.
In the numerous lessons that Georges gives his children, it’s easy to comprehend and learn tid-bits about the French language. The movie also offers an interesting view of the French schooling system and new ways to improve your learning, direct from the masters.
Set in 1977, “Potiche” tells the story of a trophy wife turned factory worker in the ultimate feminist tale. After her husband suffers a heart attack, Suzanne Pojol is forced to take over the family business, to the dismay of the workers and management. Soon, however, it is clear that Suzanne holds a far superior understanding of business and human relationships, and it’s not long before she is a favorite among the workers.
The film is incredibly entertaining, engaging and interesting to watch. While the dialogue does run away with itself a little from time to time, the narrative is perfectly easy to follow. Conversation flows from character to character, so it won’t be long before you’re joining in with all of the chatter.
Finally, here’s a classic from Michel Ocelot. “Kirikou et la sorcière” is a film simple enough for any beginner to understand, as are any of Ocelot’s cinematic offerings. Proof that children’s films can be just as interesting and enriching as adult’s films, “Kirikou et la sorcière” blends magic, tribalism and village life to utter perfection.
Set in an African village, the film offers a great insight into the African-French accent, enabling you to get your ears around words in a different way. The plot and dialogue are simple to follow, and the film is a delight to watch.
Learning beginner French through movies might not seem like the most obvious option, but there are a huge number of films out there that you can dip your toes into. Improve your comprehension, up your confidence and hey, presto—soon you’ll understand and speak French like a pro!
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